In the 2011 school year, about 9 percent of students met requirements by completing a project-based alternative, called "bridge projects," and this year, roughly 10 percent of students used that alternative. Some students received waivers from the test to be able to graduate.
Around the Baltimore region, most school districts performed on-par or exceeded the state's pass rates, with the exception of Baltimore City, which had 67 percent passing the tests. In Anne Arundel County, 94 percent of students passed the exams; in Baltimore County, 91 percent did; and in Howard, Carroll and Harford counties, at least 95 percent did.
Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Harford had roughly 5 percent of students complete projects. Baltimore County had slightly more with 9 percent; and in Baltimore City, 32 percent met the high school requirement via a bridge project.
Baltimore City also released its Advanced Placement and SAT scores for 2012, which other districts released in September. The system's average SAT score fell by about 30 points in 2012. And while 187 more students took the AP tests, only 109 more passed.
At the state school meeting at which the data were presented, board members questioned the methods used to track students who leave school.
Robert Murphy, who directs the state's dropout prevention program, explained that the reasons students left school were classified as "lack of interest," "whereabouts unknown" or "academic."
Board member Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks said the "whereabouts unknown" category "really means nobody cares." Teachers and administrators must do more to track down such students, he said.
"Ultimately, we see these individuals again," said Walks. "We see them on the streets. We see them on the corners. We see them in prison."
Lowery said Murphy and his team were working to delve further into dropout data. When officials have a better sense of the reasons students leave school, they will be better equipped to prevent them from dropping out, she said.
Although the overall dropout rate decreased slightly, the rate increased substantially for Hispanic and American Indian students. Fewer special education students dropped out of school, but the percentage of poor students and non-English speakers who dropped out increased.
Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.
By the numbers
Number of Maryland students who passed all three HSA tests: 45,019
Number who passed at least one test and completed a "bridge" project: 7,930
Number who completed "bridge" projects: 5,669
Number who received waiver: 123
Total diplomas: 58,792
Source: Maryland State Department of Education Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts