County high school algebra test scores jump

Double dose of mathematics classes as well as intervention are credited in 10.9 percentage-point rise


A double dose of math and an ounce of intervention are being credited for double-digit growth in Howard County students' algebra scores on the state's most recent High School Assessment tests.

Overall, the system's scores increased in algebra, biology, and government, according to data released this week by the Maryland Department of Education. Students in Howard County's 12 high schools made the biggest gains in algebra, increasing 10.9 percentage points to an overall 85.2 passing percentage.

River Hill High School led the county in algebra, with 96.6 percent of students passing the test. Howard and Reservoir High schools saw the biggest jumps in algebra, increasing by 31.5 and 30.7 percentage points, to 79 percent and 69.6 percent, respectively.

The HSAs took on additional importance this year, becoming a graduation requirement for the Class of 2009, last year's freshmen.

Of the 2,065 freshmen who took the algebra test last year, 459 students did not pass on their first attempt, while 11 of the 907 freshmen who took the biology test failed. Students usually take the government assessment test in 10th grade. English II results will not be available until October.

Terry Alban, director of student assessment and program evaluation, attributed the overall success to a mix of efforts in middle school and specialized classes at the high school level.

For example, the co-teaching model -- an inclusion class for special- and regular-education students that gives them two class periods of algebra and English each day -- was offered at five schools in 2005-2006. Those schools, Hammond, Oakland Mills, Howard, Long Reach and Wilde Lake, increased algebra scores an average of 18.56 percentage points.

The school system also offered intervention programs at the middle school and high school level, and high schools offered a half-credit High School Assessment mastery course last year. Alban said all schools looked at data from local assessment tests each quarter and identified students in need of intervention.

Marcia Leonard, principal at Atholton High School, said her school "flagged" students with lower local assessment scores, met with their parents and set up after-school sessions that required students to meet with their teachers two days a week. Leonard also held evening sessions during which the HSAs were explained to parents and students.

"We need to look at student performance on a student-by-student level," said Leonard, who saw her school's scores increase 4.8 percentage points to 75.5 in algebra. The state average pass percentage is 66.6 percent. "If we are successful with each student, we will be successful with all students," she said.

The school system also took steps to work with specific groups of students who typically have faced challenges on standardized tests.

During the past school year, the system held workshops for the Arab, Korean, and Hispanic communities and for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, explaining high school assessments and graduation requirements.

The African-American pass rate in algebra increased to 65 percent from 45 percent. In biology, the pass rate increased to 63 percent from 56 percent, and in government it increased to 69 percent from 66 percent.

Hispanic students increased their pass rate to 63 percent from 51 percent in algebra. They also increased to 66 percent in biology from 51 percent; and to 73 percent in government from 71 percent.

The system also saw gains from other groups, including English Language Learners, students from low-income families and students receiving special-education services.

Alban said she expects scores to continue to rise as students are reminded of the importance of the tests.

"We're going to continue to do what we are doing," Alban said. "We will see similar growth in government and biology like we saw with algebra."

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