Success at assessments

The Baltimore Sun

Nearly 92 percent of Anne Arundel County's high school seniors have met state-mandated standardized testing guidelines, which for the first time this year are required to receive a diploma, according to recently released statistics from the state.

Nearly 4,000 county seniors have passed the annual High School Assessments, which are designed to help the state measure progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The 92 percent passage rate among seniors in Anne Arundel trails Carroll, Harford and Howard counties by between 1 and 3 percentage points, but is 8 points higher than the state average, 7 points higher than Baltimore County and 10 points higher than Montgomery County. The passage rate in Baltimore City is 65 percent.

The Class of 2009 is the first to be required to pass the assessments to receive a diploma, a decision announced in 2007 and reaffirmed Tuesday, when the Maryland State Board of Education voted to reject a motion that would have delayed the requirement's implementation. State education officials passed the reform, arguing that it will raise academic standards and makes high school more rigorous. Maryland is one of 21 states that require students to pass a set of tests to receive a diploma.

While Anne Arundel's passage rates on each of the tests improved markedly over last year, a gap exists between white and minority students. While 94.4 percent of white students met the HSA requirement, 87.1 percent of Asian students, 86.5 percent of Hispanic students and 84 percent of African-American students met the same standard.

Among students receiving free or reduced-price meals, 79.1 percent passed; special education students had a passage rate of 55.2 percent; and 28.6 percent of students who are deemed "limited English proficient" passed.

"While we are very pleased that the large majority of our seniors are on track with regard to the HSAs, we still have work to do," Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said in a news release. "Our task is to make sure that every current senior - and every student - is put in a position to not only meet these requirements, but to reach his or her full potential."

The percentage of students passing in each category of tests - algebra I, biology, English II and American government - jumped by double digits over last year. For example, 72 percent of Anne Arundel high school seniors passed the algebra assessment during the 2007-08 school year, and 93 percent passed this school year. The numbers for last year - 71.5 percent in biology, 57.1 percent in English II and 68.8 percent in American government - grew to 87.7 percent, 87.9 percent and 90.5 percent, respectively.

The 8 percent of county seniors in jeopardy of missing graduation next spring still have options. There are two more opportunities for seniors to take the exams before graduation, in January and April. And students who have all required graduation credits, but have failed to pass a subject test twice will have the option of completing a project to show mastery in a subject, an alternative known as the "Bridge Plan for Academic Validation" program.

Of the 354 seniors who have not passed all four HSA exams, have not taken one or more of the exams or have not achieved a total combined score of 1,602, school officials have identified 290 students as eligible for the bridge program.

"The numbers are really good, but our sole focus in terms of HSA is those 354 students," said Bob Mosier, a schools spokesman. "Those are the students that we have to get over the hump, one way or another. And that's the focus of all of our high schools. These numbers out today don't change our focus, which has been these students. They've got to meet these requirements to graduate. Our schools have spent an incredible amount of time on this."

Of the county's largest high schools, Severna Park High leads the pack with a 98.5 percent passage rate. Among the lowest were Annapolis and Meade high schools, at 85 percent. Old Mill High School led the county's high schools in number of seniors that had not yet taken all four of the tests, at 22 seniors out of 513. Meade High School had 16 students out of 304 who had not taken all four tests.

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