HSA tests now crucial

County students' passage rate is up markedly with 2009 graduation in the balance

November 02, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Before Maryland school officials mandated last week that all students, regardless of grades, pass the High School Assessments or risk not getting a diploma, the tests were without real consequence.

Not like the SATs or the ACT, mega tests that determine the college you attend. Students knew that. And that helps explain why, with the new mandate, passage rates in Anne Arundel County for the Class of 2009 increased markedly from the Class of 2008, 16 percent to 30 percent on the four required tests.

"The Class of 2008 simply had to sit for the exam," said George Arlotto, the chief school performance officer. "The students realize that. They know what they need to do to graduate. With this now looming, it becomes very real. So I think the students are taking it more seriously, working harder."

Overall, 92 percent of county seniors have met the requirement so far this year, which is achieved by passing all four assessment tests - English II, Biology, American Government and Algebra I - or achieving a combined score of 1602.

The Maryland State Board of Education voted last week to reject a motion that would have delayed implementation of the requirement, making the state one of 21 across the country to require students in the Class of 2009 to pass the four tests to get a diploma.

The difference in passage rates between the classes of 2008 and 2009 stands out. For example, 71.5 percent of county seniors in the Class of 2008 passed the biology test. That percentage rose to 87.7 percent for the Class of 2009. The percentage increases are equally evident in the other subjects, rising from 72 percent to 93 percent in Algebra I, from 57.1 percent to 87.9 percent in English II and from 68.8 percent to 90.5 percent in American Government.

School administrators and teachers worked diligently to increase the passage rates, Arlotto said, studying individual student data and setting aside instructional time and after-school time for increased instruction in areas where students were struggling.

At Arundel High School, for example, the school's three lunch periods have been lumped together to create a single, 60-minute lunch period, enabling students who have eaten to receive extra help.

The passage rate among seniors in Anne Arundel - 10 points higher than in Montgomery County and 8 points higher than the state average - has helped allay fears among some parents and other critics who feared that the new requirement would prevent many students from receiving a diploma.

"I see the parents' concern that this testing is expecting too much," said Anita Owens, the PTA president, of the county schools. "But I see the testing, and when [students] come out of school they should know these things. In the past, what have these high school diplomas meant if they didn't know these basic things?"

There are two more opportunities to take the tests for the 354 county students who have not met the requirement. County school officials say they have identified 290 students as being eligible to participate in the Bridge Plan for Academic Validation program, which allows students to complete a project to fulfill the requirement.

Of those 354 seniors, some have not passed all four HSA exams, some have not taken one or more of them or have not achieved a combined score of 1,602.

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