Students show gains on Md. test

Algebra, biology, government scores improve as tests count



In a table in yesterday's editions showing the percentage of students who passed Maryland's High School Assessment in algebra, the totals for the state and each school system appeared higher than the scores for individual high schools would indicate. The reason is that the totals included the results not just for high schools, but for middle school students who took the test. Those who take the algebra test in middle school tend to have higher pass rates because they include the most advanced math students, school officials say.

More than 70 percent of last year's ninth-graders who took state proficiency tests in algebra, government and biology have passed the exams - results state officials said mean most other members of the Class of 2009 should be able to pass the tests, as required, before they graduate.

Across the state, the pass rates for last year rose in every county and in Baltimore City - in some cases significantly. In Baltimore County, the percentage of students passing the tests was up at least 10 points in all three subjects. In the city, the percentage of students passing algebra was up 15 points.

"We are feeling very, very good about these results," said Ronald Peiffer, a deputy state superintendent.

The state began giving the tests in 2000, but made passing them a condition of graduation starting in 2009. The specter of tens of thousands of seniors in the Class of 2009 being prevented from graduating had haunted state education officials.

For the past few years, the pass rates hovered around 50 percent and less in some systems, but the students taking the tests knew that they didn't count. The results would get better, state officials predicted, when members of the Class of 2009 - last year's ninth-graders - began taking the tests. That is just what happened.

Students can retake a test many times if they failed it. The state predicts about half the students who retake the test next year will pass.

Statewide, the pass rate increased to 67 percent for algebra, 68 percent for biology and 74 percent for government. Those results include not just the ninth-graders but some students in upper grades who also took the tests, though their scores won't count on their records. Results of the English II test will be released later.

There were caveats to the good news. While African-Americans and Hispanics made great leaps in pass rates this year - African-American pass rates on algebra rose from 35 percent to 52 percent - that means half of African-Americans have yet to pass the test. Special education and poor children also lag significantly behind.

In contrast, 88 percent of whites and more than 90 percent of Asians passed the algebra exam.

"Certainly this indicates important progress on this critical, high-stakes test for Maryland students. At the same time I would caution that we need to look at the data [for poor] and minority students before getting too carried away with those results," said Mark Woodard, education director with Advocates for Children and Youth.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said some school systems will have to make changes in curriculum and give struggling students more support to ensure that pass rates continue to climb. "I am guardedly optimistic," she said.

Maryland has had a graduation test for every senior for more than two decades. The current proficiency tests, called the Maryland High School Assessments, are given at the end of courses in each of the four subjects and are aimed at raising standards at high schools throughout the state.

Gary Heath, director of testing for the State Department of Education, said he believes that the new exams are forcing some school systems to offer Algebra I earlier and to increase the rigor in their courses.

About a third of all students statewide take Algebra I in middle school, and most have passed the high school assessment by the time they enter ninth grade. The biology and American government tests are given in ninth grade in most counties, although some school systems have waited until 10th or 11th grade. English II is given in the 10th grade.

The results for the Class of 2009, when separated from other students in other grades who took the tests, showed that 72 percent passed algebra, 79 percent passed biology and 78 percent passed government.

Top performing high schools in the state continued to do well this year. Eastern Technology and Hereford in Baltimore County, Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore City, and River Hill in Howard County all had at least 90 percent of students passing all three subjects. Dozens of schools had more than 80 percent of students with passing grades.

The results in the state's middle schools were perhaps the most remarkable. At 68 middle schools, 100 percent of the students who took the Algebra I test passed.

Baltimore posted gains that outpaced the state's average gains, city school officials said.

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