Seniors Closing In On Terms For Graduation

More Than 80% In City Have Met State Hsa Requirements

April 08, 2009|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

More than 80 percent of Baltimore high school seniors have met the High School Assessment requirements for graduation after the completion of nearly 5,000 projects - 1,942 of them submitted and graded in March.

This is the first year that seniors must earn a minimum score on state tests in English, algebra, government and biology or complete project equivalents to earn a Maryland diploma. With one more test administration and three project submission deadlines still to go, 802 of 4,170 seniors in the city are still trying to qualify. The number who have done so is up to 3,368, or 80.8 percent, according to new school system data.

Principals are reporting that the only students who will not graduate are those who have failed classes or fallen short on other criteria, such as completion of service learning. They plan to apply for waivers from the HSA requirements for about 125 students, many who have disabilities or are learning English as a second language. Among 390 seniors with disabilities, the number meeting requirements increased from 36 in September to 161, mostly by completing projects.

The city typically graduates about 4,000 seniors annually, about half of those who start as freshmen four years earlier.

Baltimore is being recognized for the extraordinary amount of work done this school year to get seniors through. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the city schools "organized an outstanding plan" and "worked diligently with the students" to improve instruction.

More than 1,000 city seniors have met the assessment requirements since September.

"There's been a focus on every kid," said city schools chief Andres Alonso. "Staff has worked hard, and the kids have responded. They should be proud, and we should celebrate them. And one day we will celebrate every kid graduating. That's the goal."

Next school year, staff members will again need to make a huge push to get the current juniors to graduation. According to the latest data, only a third of Baltimore's juniors - 1,467 of 4,333 - have met the HSA requirements.

Around the state, Grasmick said, many schools have gotten all their seniors through the requirements, and some systems have fewer than 20 seniors still needing to pass. "I honestly believe that every system is very serious about this work," she said. As of late March, when the latest statewide data were released, 4,600 seniors were at risk of not graduating, but figures are constantly in flux. Prince George's County had the biggest gap, consisting of 1,655 seniors - or 21.5 percent of the class. Baltimore County had 455 seniors, or 7.4 percent, to go.

Officials expect the numbers to improve after the final test administration this month.

"There is not going to be a large cohort of students who don't get a diploma because of HSAs," Grasmick said.

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