My head is swimming with numbers after two days of reporting on HSAs and other high school achievement matters. An assortment of things to note from the events of Monday and Tuesday:
The city school system took down from the school board Web site what I considered the most interesting slide in the presentation given last night, the one showing how many seniors still haven't passed any of the four HSAs, how many have passed one, two, etc. The reason: System officials discovered yesterday that their figures are slightly different than state figures. And the state figures make the system look better than its own. For the record, my story today uses state data; my story yesterday used city data.
At yesterday's state board meeting, I felt almost bad for state board member Rosa Garcia as she was commenting that, as a Latina, she didn't feel a sense of urgency from the superintendents who testified, particularly when it comes to getting English language learners to pass the HSAs. She singled out Dr. Alonso by name and inaccurately portrayed the situation in the city, where only a handful of English learners in the senior class are still trying to pass. I knew he would rip her apart in his response. He didn't disappoint.
I had trouble understanding the argument that Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast was making at the meeting for delaying the HSA requirements. It's a moot point now, but on one hand, Montgomery has the state's largest population of English language learners, and many of them are having trouble passing the HSAs. On the other, Weast says the HSAs are too easy and set the standards too low. He recommends replacing them with a more difficult test like the ACT college admissions exam. Could it be that he just hates Nancy Grasmick?
In making the case to the state board that Maryland does hold its students to a higher standard than the HSAs (countering the argument by Weast), Grasmick noted the state's open access for students to take the SAT. Ben Feldman, the city's testing director, couldn't help himself from pointing out at last night's city board meeting that it's Baltimore that pays for all its students to take the SATs, and Grasmick has in the past blamed the state's stagnant SAT scores on the city encouraging unprepared students to be tested. Baltimore's SAT scores are up 9 points this year, with a 79 percent participation rate. The state, with a 69 percent partcipation rate, and the nation, with a participation rate of 45 percent, had flat SAT scores.
Now that the HSA requirement is going to stand, I wondered whether the 260 dropouts recruited to come back to city schools this fall will have to pass the exams. Yes, if they started high school as freshmen in 2005 or later. No, if they started high school before 2005. Grasmick said she is starting a pilot program with the city so that dropouts who re-enroll -- who previously had a negative effect on their class's dropout rate -- would count with their new class. I'm still trying to get my head around how this will work.