Two weeks before the high school Class of 2009 begins walking across stages around the state, school districts are reporting a significant reduction in the number of students who won't graduate because they have not met the new High School Assessment requirement.
In late March, about 4,600 seniors in the state had yet to meet the requirement, but that number has been decreasing as students work to complete projects in subjects they had failed. In Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Harford and Montgomery counties combined, the most recent data show that fewer than 1,150 students have not met the mark and each day the numbers are falling. Those jurisdictions had 2,040 students in danger of failing as of late March.
In Queen Anne's County, every senior who was on track to graduate has passed the HSA hurdle. Information for two school systems, Baltimore and Prince George's counties, has not been released since March. However, a Baltimore County school official said Thursday that the county expects the number of students who do not graduate to be 4 percent or fewer, which would be about 300 students. That figure had been 8 percent in the fall.
State education officials told all school systems on Wednesday not to release updated estimates after The Baltimore Sun requested the information this week. The next report is expected to be discussed at the state school board meeting May 27, but those figures may not reflect the final count. "The numbers look really good," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "We feel optimistic."
The Class of 2009 is the first senior class that is being required to pass four subject tests in biology, algebra I, American government and 10th-grade English in order to graduate from high school.
The Maryland State Board of Education has voted several times over the past year to stick with the requirement even though thousands of students were at risk of not graduating. In late 2007, the state voted to allow students who had failed the tests twice to complete projects in the subjects that they had failed and later put in place a limited waiver for some students.
As of this week, Howard had four students who had failed to meet the requirement; Carroll had seven; Harford had several dozen; and Arundel had 100. School officials in Carroll, Harford and Arundel said they expect the numbers to drop in the next two weeks.
By late April, Montgomery County had fewer than 500 of 10,000 seniors who hadn't passed the requirement. About the same time, Baltimore City reported that all but about 750 of 4,088 seniors had met the requirement and more than a thousand projects were in the process of being sent in for grading.
Earlier this week, city school officials said 10 percent or less of their students, or about 400, would not graduate. In both those systems, a significant number of students are expected to get waivers.
At the Baltimore Talent Development High School, principal Jeffrey Robinson said he believed only two of his approximately 100 students would not graduate because of the new requirement and he said both of those students had been offered help multiple times and had not made an effort.
That was not the case in the beginning of the year, when about a third of his senior class had not met the requirement. Robinson said he believes students who apply themselves can meet the standard. One student who did a project took the algebra test again recently and passed. "This is a kid who is very limited, but he is determined," Robinson said.
Some school officials said they expect the enormous effort some students had to put into the projects will translate into higher pass rates among underclassmen who are being told by their elders to study harder because the tests are easier than the projects.
Cindy Hudson, specialist in the office of school performance in Anne Arundel, said the requirement also has helped struggling students get more individualized attention this year. Hudson said the county has a team assembled to grade projects, even those handed in days before graduation.
Some school systems also have talked about allowing students to complete the projects after school ends and get a diploma in the mail this summer.