State tests show gains

More high-schoolers pass in all subjects

August 29, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun Reporter

More Anne Arundel County high-schoolers passed state English, algebra and biology tests than last school year, though African-American and Hispanic students' performance continues to lag, according to data released yesterday by the Maryland State Department of Education.

More than 7,500 county students took the annual High School Assessments, given at the end of courses in Algebra I, American government, biology and English II to help the state measure its progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

The state released only countywide pass rates; school-level data were unavailable yesterday afternoon.

The largest gains were on the English test, where three-quarters of the 5,548 students who took the exam passed it, a 13 percentage-point jump from the previous year and the latest in a four-year trend of steady gains.

The state data also showed minority students gradually catching up to their white peers on that test, with pass rates among black students increasing by 18 percentage points from the previous year.

"There was a lot more targeted help this year," said schools spokesman Bob Mosier. "Instead of a generic after-school help, you're targeting individual students by specific need."

He attributed the English gains to efforts in high schools to integrate short essay questions, the type found on the High School Assessments, in other subjects like science, Mosier said. The key, he said, was to reinforce English concepts in as many classes as possible.

The district's pass rates on the biology test climbed 3.4 percentage points to 75 percent, while performance on the algebra test rose marginally by nine-tenths of a percentage point. About 84 percent of the students passed the government test, a drop of 2 percentage points.

Even as the percentage of students passing state tests climbed, minority students still trail their white peers. Only half of African-American students and 54 percent of Hispanic students passed the algebra test, compared with 79 percent of white students. In English, barely six of 10 black high-schoolers passed the state test, compared with 81 percent of their white peers.

"To see Hispanic students doing so well in English - many of them come from first-generation immigrant families - so it's a huge accomplishment," said Enrique Melendez, school board vice president. "Other than English, though, everything else looks weak. As we have made gains working with students on the bottom end, the top students have also continued to make gains. That's good, but the gap keeps growing.

"Hopefully, we can use this data to figure out how to close the gap and build on the success story we see in English in other subjects, too, like algebra, government and science."

Over the past two years, high school teachers, principals and administrators have routinely gathered to pore over every type of student data: attendance, grades, number of Advanced Placement exams taken, behavior referrals. School officials say the microscopic attention to data in these "war rooms" is now paying dividends through higher performance on state tests. Ultimately, school officials here say they also hope to reduce dropout rates and truancy.

Last year, the district also launched a new data program that helped high school teachers and principals more regularly track student performance. The "benchmarking" program, as it's called in the district, enables teachers to assess their students' strengths and weaknesses every two to three weeks, instead of waiting for the end of every marking period.

With constant updates and fresh data, high school teachers were able to zero in on what concepts students struggled with most and spent more time on them in class or in after-school tutoring sessions. Mosier said school officials credit the program for helping the district post gains on the state tests and have expanded it this school year to middle and elementary schools.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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