- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — Maryland high school students did significantly better on end-of-course tests this year, matching the expectation of officials who had predicted a spike in performance once the exams were linked to graduation.

Students in 20 of the state’s 24 districts improved on all four of the tests in English, biology, government and algebra. The bad news, however, was that four in 10 Maryland students failed the exams — which will be required for graduation with the class of 2009.

“I’m obviously elated,” said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, “and I think we’ll see another spike next year,” when the tests will count for freshmen.

But, she added: “If 60 percent are passing, 40 percent are failing, and we can’t be proud of that statistic.”

The superintendent said some districts are lagging in the teaching of ninth-grade algebra.

In June, the State Board of Education made passing the tests a requirement for graduation, effective with this year’s eighth-graders. The 2004 tests were given before that action, and most of those who took the tests won’t have to pass to earn a diploma.

“The word is out,” said Gary Heath, the state testing chief. “What I hear in the schools is that everyone is taking the tests more seriously.”

Polytechnic Institute, one of Baltimore’s selective citywide high schools, had the highest percentage of students in Maryland passing the four tests. For example, 99.6 percent of its students passed the government exam, and 94 percent passed biology.

Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, Eastern Technology High School in Baltimore County, City College in Baltimore and River Hill High in Howard County were not far behind.

Students have at least four chances per year to retake the High School Assessments.

Fifty-three percent of the state’s high school students passed the English test, up 13 percentage points over 2003. Statewide scores improved by five or six percentage points on the other three exams.

The state also released first-year Maryland School Assessment scores for grades four, six and seven, and 10th grade geometry, completing the seven-grade array of testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Among metropolitan-area districts, Howard County students had the highest scores on the MSA and Baltimore had the lowest, although a few of the semiautonomous “new schools” in the city, such as the KIPP Ujima Village and Midtown academies and The ConneXions, scored well on the tests.

Schools are required to break down scores for such subgroups as blacks, students in special education and those eligible for free lunches. Results released Tuesday showed wide achievement discrepancies in all three categories.

Thirty-five percent of blacks passed the high school English test, for example, while 65 percent of whites did so.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools failing to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) for two consecutive years must offer students the option of transferring to higher-performing public schools.

A list of schools failing to make AYP was released in the spring, but Tuesday the state modified the list based on attendance data and graduation rates.

Mrs. Grasmick said 284 schools are on the failing list this year, down from 473 in 2003.

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