A vast majority of Carroll County students in the Class of 2009 have passed the Maryland High School Assessments for algebra, English and government, according to newly released results.
About 87 percent of this year's juniors have passed the algebra assessment, 92 percent passed the government exam, and 83 percent passed the English test, the school system side.
About 44 percent of 10th-graders passed the biology exam, but that factors in the entire class, and more than 50 percent have yet to take the test, which is typically administered in 11th grade.
Among the students who have taken the test, the percentages in all subjects climb slightly: about 85 percent in English, 95 percent in government and biology, and nearly 93 percent in algebra.
"There are a couple of different caveats as you look at the numbers," said Gregory Bricca, director of research and accountability for Carroll schools. "I don't think it completely tells us the whole story."
Because scores were reported differently this year - more of a "status model" looking at current juniors as opposed to all test-takers, Bricca said - a comparison with last year's results is not accurate.
Instead, he said, the district is focusing on what needs to be done to get all students who plan to earn diplomas to pass the state tests.
Students in the classes of 2009 and beyond are required to pass assessments in all four subjects to graduate or meet an alternative standard based on combined scores.
Drawing comparisons among school systems is tricky, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said, because districts don't necessarily offer the same sequence of classes.
In Carroll, biology is a junior-level course, Bricca said, which would account for the large numbers of juniors who have yet to take that exam in the county.
Many of those who took the tests as sophomores were accelerated science students, Bricca said, which also could have skewed the results.
Results at individual high schools followed a pattern similar to the countywide ones, with passing rates mostly exceeding 80 percent for students in the Class of 2009.
North Carroll High had the most test-takers who passed the algebra and government exams - about 94 percent in the former and 97 percent in the latter - and Century and Francis Scott Key were at the lower end in those subjects. At Century, about 90 percent passed algebra, and at Key, about 93 percent passed government.
All of the 10th-graders who took the biology exam at Liberty High passed. Century had the highest proportion passing in English, about 90 percent, the school system said.
Students who fail can retake the exams.
There have been two options for passing the HSAs: passing each exam or earning minimum scores on all four that add up to a state-determined combined score.
But last week, state school officials announced a new proposed alternative for students struggling with the assessments.
That plan would involve "locally administered projects" for what is expected to be a small number of seniors who haven't passed the tests, the state Department of Education said.
"I think it does give us another option of working with students," said Sherri-Le Bream, Carroll's director of high schools. "It's a good idea to have something else you can do with students, because some students really don't test well."
Ecker agreed, saying that some students freeze up when they sit down for a test. An alternative to passing the exams would help address students' needs, he said.
Bricca said a more detailed report on the school system's HSA results, including how subgroups such as special education and minority students fared, will be presented to the school board this month.
In the meantime, school officials have their work cut out for them, Bricca said.
Having more than 80 percent of juniors passing all of the tests "is a good place to be today ... we still have 400 kids that we need to get to graduation," Bricca said, referring to an estimate of the number of prospective 2009 graduates who will need remediation. "That's not a small number."