After the Anne Arundel County school board received its annual update on the system's five-year strategic plan for student achievement, board member Solon Webb directed one question to school officials: "Are we winning or losing?"
Webb's query prompted a discussion Wednesday almost as lengthy as the presentation of the 2012 Strategic Plan, which tracks students' five-year progress in Maryland School Assessments and High School Assessments, as well as International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and honors participation and testing. The school system adopted a new five-year plan in June.
School officials set targets in the plan for MSA proficiency in reading and math, AP and IB participation, and HSA English passing scores.
Superintendent Kevin Maxwell told Webb: "We are winning exceptionally well in some places and winning less well in other places." His reply drew chuckles from a few board members.
"You have to understand what we have done in that first strategic plan was set some pretty high goals that most people aren't willing to confront and most people aren't willing to talk about," Maxwell said. "Most people want to talk about proficiency but not advanced. It was very ambitious.
"Most people, in fact some members of prior boards to this one, wanted us to rewrite them and say, 'You're not on target to make those. Why don't you lower your expectations for some of those student groups?' " Maxwell said. "We refused to do that. We knew in the beginning this was a very high bar that we set for ourselves. While we have fallen short in areas, we have made progress."
The targets are broken down by student groups, such as race, special education, English language learners and students receiving free and reduced-price meals. None of the targets were met by all student groups. Several groups — African-Americans, Hispanics, special education, English language learners and students receiving free and reduced-price meals — did not meet any of the targets.
Yet school officials touted the percentage increases of black students in passing the HSA algebra exam (41.4 percent), the HSA biology exam (32 percent) and the HSA English exam (32 percent). Students receiving free and reduced-price lunches also saw percentage increases of 31 percent or greater in each of those HSA categories. Special education students' scores on the HSA English exam improved 32.9 percent and 30.8 percent on HSA algebra.
School officials said the plan's target of having 50 percent score at an advanced rate and 100 percent pass on the MSA was not met for all students. They added, however, that progress had been made during the past five years, including a 13.5 percent increase in the advanced pass rate in reading and a 10.6 percent jump in the advanced pass rate in mathematics.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, all students in the country were expected to reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014; however, Maryland and other states were allowed to apply for a waiver from that requirement, which was granted. Now, each school in the state will have its own targets.
"The majority of student groups made progress over the life of the strategic plan," said George Arlotto, associate superintendent for school performance. "However, we are concerned that the same student groups are farthest from the final target in terms of proficient performance as they are in terms of advanced performance."
The 100 percent pass rate for High School Assessments was not met, school officials said. Overall, they said, seniors saw a 25.2 percent increase in passing rate over five years in algebra, and a 20.6 percent increase in biology.
The State Department of Education has not yet released High School Assessment data for the 2012 graduating class.
There were mixed results for those taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or honors courses. The school system met its target of ensuring that 80 percent of students took an honors, AP or IB course since 2006-2007. But the percentage of students earning a minimum 3 score on the AP exam or a minimum 4 score on the IB exam dropped 8.8 points.
Board President Andrew Pruski said the new strategic plan will be in line with the common core standards, a new set of standards on how math and reading are taught that have been adopted by Maryland and most states, and new state assessments, which are being developed and are expected to be more difficult than today's MSAs.
"There's no question we need to make more progress and we're doing that as a board," said Pruski. "When you have a transition of something you were tested on in the past and there's a curriculum change, you need a new plan. But we're going above and beyond what the state is telling us."
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