The overwhelming majority of Maryland's high school graduates are passing state assessments needed to obtain a diploma, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education, though gaps persist between minority students and their peers.

Roughly 59,500 students in the Class of 2013 completed high school, with nearly 90 percent passing the High School Assessments, which are required for graduation and are administered in English, algebra and biology. No student failed to graduate because of failing to meet the requirement.

State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said that overall, the high school data released Wednesday showed that the state was on the right trajectory. The state released a new five-year graduation rate for the Class of 2012, which rose slightly, to 86 percent. Graduation and dropout data for the Class of 2013 will be released next year.

"I certainly want to acknowledge the amazing work that's going on in our schools, and the fact that the numbers are moving in the right direction," Lowery said. "But we all know that until 100 percent of our children are in a way that they can be college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school, we still have work to do."

Students who do not pass all three tests can use other options to meet the requirement, such as earning a combined score on the tests of 1602, completing work known as "bridge" projects or seeking a waiver.

About 78 percent of all Maryland students passed each of the assessments, while another 22 percent met the requirement with the combined score option or the projects. Eighty students met graduation requirements through waivers.

However, Hispanic and African-American students lagged significantly behind in their ability to pass all three tests, requiring more of them to meet the requirements through alternative measures.

About 30 percent of Hispanic students passed by using the combined score or bridge option; and nearly 40 percent of African-American students did, which mirrored the performance of students who receive free and reduced-price meals.

Even wider gaps existed for students with disabilities and English-language learners, more than half of whom passed the tests through the alternative options.

"Clearly there are some areas where there needs to be some work," Henry R. Johnson, assistant state superintendent for curriculum, assessments and accountability, told the state school board Wednesday.

Districts in the Baltimore area reported slight progress in the number of students passing the tests.

Baltimore City schools said that roughly 46 percent of their students passed all three tests, a 1 percentage point improvement from last year; 22 percent of its students passed via a combined score; and 32 percent used bridge projects.

The district also released its SAT scores for 2013, which saw a 14-point increase from last year to an average composite score of 1119, significantly below the state's average of 1498. The highest possible score on the tests, required by most colleges for admittance, is 2400.

Interim city schools CEO Tisha Edwards said in a statement that the district is "looking more critically at how we support students, and we are broadening our view of what it means to be college and career ready."

All of Baltimore County's seniors met the HSA requirements, officials said, with about 79 percent passing the exams, about 11 percent earning a passing combined score, and about 10 percent completing bridge projects.

"With all of our students meeting the state's HSA requirement by the end of their senior year, we know we are ready for the next phase of academic rigor," County Superintendent Dallas Dance said in a release.

In Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, more than 95 percent passed the tests or met the combined-score option, with fewer than 5 percent using the bridge project option. In Anne Arundel County, 94 percent passed the tests or met the combined-score option, while 6 percent relied on the bridge project.

State officials said that they will dive deeper into some data, such as the success students are having on bridge projects — which have become more relevant as the new "Common Core" standards call for more project-based learning — and the number of students passing the assessments the first time they take it.

Lowery also pointed to the state's new growth measure, called the School Progress Index, as a way of helping schools address the achievement gaps because it sets specific goals for groups of students.

"Those are key points that students, teachers and schools are already focused on improving," she said.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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