Balto. Co. determined seniors will pass HSAs

Extra classes, after-school help gearing up to aid Class of '09

November 02, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

The 1,000 or so students in Baltimore County's Class of 2009 who have yet to satisfy state test requirements for graduation are going to remedial classes, attending after-school programs and being pulled out during class and lunch for extra instruction as schools strive to help them meet the mark.

Administrators and teachers are also making an appeal to parents, reminding them of what's at stake this year and what they can do to ensure that their children get their diplomas.

"The message is real clear to kids: 'Now I've got to pass this,' " said Stephen A. Edgar, principal of Parkville High School, referring to the exams that are now mandatory for graduation. About 85 percent of Parkville seniors have met requirements, mirroring the countywide rate.

Because those seniors have already met the state standards, the system can concentrate its resources on those who haven't, Superintendent Joe A. Hairston told state board members last week when the results were released.

Seniors will have the opportunity to take the High School Assessments three more times before June. They must pass each of the four HSA subject tests, achieve a minimum combined score or complete HSA-related projects.

Baltimore County schools ranged from about 55 percent of seniors fulfilling requirements (Woodlawn) to 100 percent (Eastern Technical). While 92.4 percent of the white students and 88.5 percent of Asian students have completed the requirements, about 73.3 percent of Hispanics and 72.7 percent of African-Americans have done so.

The latter figure is "woefully low" by the district's standards, Hairston told board members. He later also noted the need for improvement among special-education students, 52.1 percent of whom have met requirements.

At Parkville, about 94.1 percent of white students, 92.3 percent of Asians, 74.6 percent of African-Americans and 66.7 percent of Hispanics have met assessment requirements, according to school officials. They have sought to address those who are behind by incorporating "real-world" situations into lessons, said Linda Govignon, an assistant principal and test coordinator.

In "Contemporary Problems in Biology," for example, students might be asked to write a letter taking a stance on stocking vending machines with granola bars and water, said Tom Rochfort, Parkville's science department chairman.

At Randallstown High, students have "HSA Thursdays," Principal Cheryl Pasteur said. Teachers show students how core subject skills apply to other areas, she said, as a forensic science teacher did with questions about people's rights. "Students could get real-world experience with it, versus just hearing from the social studies teacher's perspective," she said.

A review English course that Parkville senior Andre Dos Santos took last year helped him to achieve the necessary combined HSA score, he said. The semester-long class might have been boring at times, as he and his peers studied grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension, but English teacher Lee Anne Gardner pushed them, he said. "She would really remind us, we didn't want to do the same thing" again.

Edgar and Govignon said they are seeking to identify earlier the students who need help. With the help of the school's attendance committee, they hope to spot at-risk students - something recognizable by the end of the first quarter of the ninth grade, Edgar said.

Maria Lowry, principal at Chesapeake High School, said she strives to make sure that her faculty understands how the tests measure learning, and how questions in class can be structured to simulate what students will encounter on the assessments.

In an interview, Hairston said a variety of factors contribute to achievement disparities, including social, cultural and class differences. The district has "strong initiatives" in place to continue working with those students who still aren't where they should be, he said. The system's research and assessment staff have reviewed student data in minute detail with principals and department chairs.

New Town High Principal Barbara Cheswick said she and her staff have been looking at such data daily. Nearly 81 percent of seniors at the mostly African-American school have met requirements, according to the state. Several dozen others are working on Bridge Plan projects, Cheswick said, which can be completed to make up for the tests students can't pass.

"All of the options out there, we are exhausting," Cheswick said. "I am bound and determined: I do not want a kid not to graduate because they have not passed the test."

Parent sessions have been held to review scores and discuss how the school can help them assist their children in this effort, Cheswick said. "The reality is, it's not a school thing, it's a community thing. ... There is involvement on all levels."

Miko Baldwin, the parent liaison for Woodlawn's Class of 2009, has organized several such meetings, the second of which is scheduled for this month. The "awareness" sessions are aimed at ensuring that no one says "they didn't know" about the requirements, said Baldwin, whose daughter is a senior at the school.

"It's a combination," Baldwin said, referring to factors that contribute to student achievement. "I'm not going to put everything on the school because you can't. ... You have to get parents involved."

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