BCPS sees improvements, setback in recent rates

The Baltimore County Public Schools system can celebrate another victory. The high school graduation rate rose 1.33 percent, from 86.3 percent in 2013 to 87.6 percent, in 2014.

The dropout rate also saw an improvement, falling from 9.7 percent in 2013 to 8.8 percent in 2014.


"For a system this size to graduate more students year after year speaks to tireless efforts from students, families and staff, as well as the commitment of board of education and county leaders," Dr. S. Dallas Dance, superintendent for BCPS, said in a press release. "Our supports are working, but we must deepen interventions to graduate every BCPS student globally competitive."

The school system also saw some setbacks, as the graduation rate among Limited English Proficient students, or LEPs, dropped 3.24 percent.

Mark Bedell, assistant superintendent for BCPS high schools, said staff members are "extremely excited" about the overall graduation rate increase.

"As you look at our graduation rates over the past three years, we have made some significant gains with really providing our students with a high school diploma and then ultimately opportunities for them to move on with their post-secondary careers, and it all starts with being able to obtain a high school diploma, so we're really excited about the work that's being done in Baltimore County Public Schools," he said.

Maria Lowry, assistant superintendent for BCPS high schools, said part of their success has come from identifying individual student's needs.

"I think that our high schools have been doing a nice job trying to identify specifically where their students are falling short as far as what's getting in their way as far as being able to graduate on time," she said. "And so when you look from one high school to another, their dropout prevention plans are very different because they're really doing it based on their individual needs at a given school."

Bedell said one of the changes the school system made to cause this success was the implementation of a plan of attack.

"We were charged with creating a formalized dropout prevention plan for the system," he said. "Ultimately what that required was that we wanted to be able to provide data for our schools really on a monthly basis … and one of the things that we charged to our schools was to form a dropout prevention committee."

The goal of the committees — of which each school has one — Bedell said, is to determine how many students are on track to meet graduation requirements and why students not achieving those goals were floundering.

"That was a big deal for us so that was new, formalizing that plan in 2012, and then we started with the actual work during January of 2013 when we had our first meeting," he said. "Our goal was to really focus on not only the cohort overall, but to also focus on looking at particular subgroups. We know that the data was coming up that while we were making increases in graduation rates, we weren't doing a good job with our special education subgroup, and we weren't doing a good job in our African-American subgroup. So we wanted to make sure that we were closing gaps that existed amongst some of our subgroups that weren't meeting graduation requirements at the rate of the overall county average. I think we've done extremely well. As you can see, we have not only advanced the graduation rates overall, but we have closed that gap … between our special education population, our African-American population and our white subgroup population."

The gap between African-American graduates and white graduates narrowed to 1.54 percent from 2013 to 2014.

The graduation rate among special education students improved by 2.27 percent, but comes in at just 64.33 percent.

Despite the increases, though, BCPS also took a major hit. The graduation rate among LEP students dropped from 59.2 percent in 2013 to 55.96 percent in 2014.

The drop has caused school officials to take a deeper look into what can be done for English language learners, or ELL students.


"I think we realized this year that we have to do better with our ELL population, especially because this is a population that is growing in the county," Bedell said. "That subgroup is starting to explode."

School officials are planning a series of intervention programs in an effort to ensure that more LEP students graduate and fewer drop out. One such program, which is in its planning stages and must still be approved, would provide increased training to teachers to better equip them to serve their LEP population. This program would focus on early intervention, and aim to instruct teachers in how best to identify and address areas of difficulty for English language learners in their classes.

Another step being taken is the revision of required courses for students whose first language is not English. Previously, ELL students were required to take ESOL — English for Speakers of Other Languages — American Culture, and EFL, or English as a Foreign Language. This summer, the courses will be altered to focus less on the phonics of English, and more on providing a broader range of exposure to the language by focusing on general areas of education.

In addition, a new course, ESOL English Language Through Literature, will be added to the ELL requirements.

"We have a course currently in place, its ESOL American Culture, so that course is going to be revised so it's more cross-curricular," Lowry said. "The intent is to increase their engagement and to help them to understand how culture and linguistics are linked, so there will be a greater emphasis on social learning

Lowry said that while EFL used to be "an isolated sort of language development grammar course," it will be revised to focus more on "general academic language focused on explicit learning of English language."

At the end of the day, she said, helping ELL students feel that they have the tools and ability to succeed is "extremely important."

"I think the more that we can do to help students feel comfortable in the classroom environment and help teachers to work with their students and feel comfortable with their knowledge and understanding of the content, then you're going to have students that they're not going to give up and they're not going to experience that frustration level because their understanding of the language and reading isn't going to be as frustrating for them, and the same with the teachers," she said. "Our teachers go above and beyond trying to figure out different ways to support students and their learning styles and if all of those strategies they use that's in their bag of tricks doesn't work, some of our best teachers get frustrated."

Success, Lowry said, will be seen if and when the graduation rate for ELL students increases.

"The end game is to be able to increase our graduation rate for our ESOL population," she said.


Reach Times Staff Reporter Elaina Clarke at 410-857-3316 or via email at