September 22, 2009

2009 High School Assessments

Liz Bowie had a story in today's paper about the 2009 High School Assessment results, which indicate that making the tests a graduation requirement hasn't presented as big of an obstacle to students as originally feared, according to data provided by state education officials.

This news has some folks wondering whether the bar is being set too low, particularly as state officials say only 11 students did not graduate solely because of the assessment requirement.

Liz will have another story in tomorrow's paper, taking a look at the future of the HSAs, and where we go from here. Stay tuned.  Also, you can check out the results on the state's Web site, which also has an updated state watch list for schools failing to make adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime...what do you think?  Do the HSAs set the bar too low?  What do you think about the small number affected by this requirement (the city, for example, reported no students kept from graduating only because of the HSAs - but did represent about 20 percent of the waivers given to seniors statewide)?

August 19, 2009

ACT scores released today

There's an interesting Education Week article today on the ACT results, which indicate most students are not ready for college.  And while a higher percentage of Maryland students are deemed prepared, the number (30 percent) is still low.

You can see how Maryland students did on the exam, and also check out the state's college readiness report.

SAT scores are expected next week, so stay tuned.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Testing

July 24, 2009

Does the "plateau effect" really exist?

In light of the ongoing conversation about the MSAs and testing this week, I thought I'd share this new study done by the Center on Education Policy, examining test score trends. 

The CEP reviewed test-result trends in 16 states with six to 10 years of consistent data for its report.

Interestingly, the study found that the so-called "plateau effect" - the idea that scores initially rise, then level off after the tests are administered for a few years - is not necessarily a given.  The plateau concept has often been cited when talking about state tests, and the likelihood of meeting the 2014 deadline for having every child pass the assessments.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Testing, Trends

May 17, 2009

HSAs: How close to the finish line?

Liz had a heck of a time getting the state to release data last week on how many seniors still have not met the HSA requirements, with graduation just a few weeks away. As she reported Friday, the number who have not passed is shrinking every day as projects keep rolling in. Fewer than 1,150 students were coming up short in Baltimore City plus Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Harford and Montgomery counties combined, down from 2,040 in late March. Baltimore County and Prince George's County (which had more students at risk for not graduating than any other district) did not release updated figures. But Baltimore County officials said they expect the number who won't graduate to be less than 4 percent of the senior class, or about 300 students.

In the city, officials estimate that more than 90 percent of seniors will have met the HSA requirements by graduation. Diplomas would be denied to about 400 seniors.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:38 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Testing

May 8, 2009

Stanford 10 scores up in Baltimore

On the testing front, the good news keeps coming for Baltimore schools. This morning, the news is out that Stanford 10 scores for first- and second-graders are up substantially.

First-graders outscored 63 percent of peers in a national sample in math (up from 55 percent) and 50 percent in reading (up from 47 percent). For second-graders, those figures are 57 percent in math (up from 49) and 46 percent in reading (up from 42). And the gap between special ed and regular ed students' performance narrowed.

While we newspaper people tend to look at how this year's first-graders compare with last year's first grade and this year's second-graders compare with last year's second grade, I always find it interesting to see how a cohort is doing over time (understanding that there's going to be some turnover so we're not exactly comparing apples to apples). The second-graders who scored on average at the 57th percentile in math this year scored at the 55th percentile last year as first-graders. In reading, their performance at the 46th percentile this year is down a point from the 47th percentile last year. In other words, the gains aren't as great as when you compare the same grades against each other, but there's not a big backslide, either.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:15 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

April 27, 2009

Monday evening musings

I wonder what the children at Samuel F.B. Morse Elementary saw on their way into school this morning; a dead body was found across the street at 7 a.m... Teach Baltimore (formerly Epiphany In Baltimore) blogs about the ambivalence of students on his baseball team when they discover that a guy is hiding heroin under the grass in the playground where they practice... Now, in addition to street violence and the drug trade, we have to worry about cyberbullying. The Anti-Defamation League, in partnership with Frederick County schools and the Maryland State Department of Education, is holding the Mid-Atlantic's first cyberbullying conference in Frederick tomorrow. Closer to home, the International Institute for Restorative Practices will hold a daylong training in Baltimore on the technique it says reduces school violence. Isn't it a shame you have to be in school? Also tomorrow, NAEP scores for the nation (not broken down by state) will be released. Tomorrow night, the Baltimore school board casts its much-awaited votes on school closures and reorganizations. And that's not all that's on the agenda. The board will hear reports on the state of charter schools and summer school and get a recommendation to change its high school promotion policy, dropping the requirement of certain courses in particular grades. More to come on all these topics... Looking ahead: I'll spend Thursday to Saturday this week at the Education Writers Association conference in Washington. Saturday evening, Frederick Douglass students and alums will put on a concert to honor the late Anne Brown.

State school board takes step toward new tests

The state school board hasn't made any commitments yet, but it took another step today toward giving a sampling of students in Maryland an international test next fall to judge how well-prepared our students are compared with those around the world.

Nancy Grasmick told the board she is having a conversation with representatives of The Programme for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, to see if it's feasible to give the test to a large enough sample of students in the state to get results that could be compared with a country overseas.

PISA was last given in 2006 in 57 countries. The board told Grasmick to continue looking into the possibility. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Testing

April 23, 2009

Closing the STEM gap

I filled in for my colleague on the higher ed beat yesterday and covered the STEM symposium at University of Maryland. Chancellor William Kirwan presented some staggering statistics about Maryland's preparation (or lack thereof) of math, science and technology teachers: The state's public schools need 500 a year, yet its colleges and universities are only producing 175, resulting in unqualified teachers filling gaps, often in the poorest schools. At least Kirwan is recognizing the problem and pledging to do something about it, hence the symposium.

It was my first time seeing Arne Duncan live. He didn't say too much that I haven't read about him saying before, but for the sake of putting it on the record here on InsideEd: He wants a longer school day, week and year. He wants to keep the data disaggregation that NCLB requires but stop letting each state develop its own standardized tests. In other words, he wants to standardize the goal but provide more flexibility in how to get there. He kind of reminded me of Dr. Alonso when he said he wants to give states autonomy to reach a uniform goal and hold them accountable for the results. He also said he wants to be judged on the country improving its high school graduation rate and getting more students through college.

Nancy Grasmick was at the symposium. She said Duncan will be bringing states together to develop uniform assessments, and Maryland will be a part of the process. Both Grasmick and Kirwan were very impressed with a program out of the University of Texas called UTeach to recruit math, science and computer teachers and would like to bring some version of it to Maryland.

UPDATE: Alonso e-mailed this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Duncan to city teachers this week.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Teaching, Testing

April 15, 2009

Disparities on California's high school exit exam

My breakfast with Jane Hannaway made me late to a session at AERA yesterday on high school exit exams, but I arrived in time for the presentation of a new study out of California, where students have had to pass an exam to graduate since 2005. The researchers, Sean Reardon of Stanford and Michal Kurlaender of University of California at San Diego, looked at the impact of the exams on students in the bottom quartile of their class. Within that population, the exams had a big negative effect on minorities and on girls.

Forty-six percent of Hispanic students in the bottom quartile graduated before the exam went into effect, compared with 31 percent after. For black students, the number went down from 53 percent to 34 percent. Asians, too, saw a decline, from 61 percent to 45 percent. But for whites in the bottom quartile, there was virtually no change: 44 percent to 43 percent.

Boys in the bottom quartile saw their graduation rate decline by 11 percentage points while the rate for girls declined by 19 points.

Students in the upper three quartiles were barely impacted by the exam. Overall, California's graduation rate declined between 3 and 4 percentage points. But Reardon said there's no evidence that the California exit exam had a positive impact on student achievement and he recommends doing away with it. His report will be made public next week, and I'll provide a link then.

It's worth noting that California does not provide students who don't pass the exam with a project option as Maryland does.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the study.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:31 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Testing

April 9, 2009

Will HSAs hold students back?

School officials in Baltimore and all over Maryland seem to think that the High School Assessments won't prevent many if any seniors from getting a diploma this year. Yes, there will be seniors who don't graduate, but that's the case every year. And those who don't graduate are those who would be held back anyway -- for failing classes, not showing up, not completing service learning hours, etc. Special education students and English learners who have done everything they're supposed to do can apply for HSA waivers.

So how to verify this claim?

Continue reading "Will HSAs hold students back?" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Testing

April 8, 2009

3,368 down, 802 to go

After the grading of 1,942 Bridge projects submitted in March and the acceptance of 1,800 of them, 80.8 percent of the city's senior class -- or 3,368 students -- have now met the High School Assessment requirements. Another 802 have not, but there's still the April test administration and another three chances to submit projects. Teachers are getting stipends to help about 100 seniors on algebra and biology projects during this week's spring break. And principals plan to apply for waivers for about 125 seniors, many of them in special education or learning English as a second language.

There's been a lot of progress among the seniors with disabilities, but still a long way to go if not for the waivers: Just 41.3 percent, or 161 of 390, meet requirements now, up from a single-digit pass rate last fall.

Getting to this point has been a ton of work, and school staff should brace themselves to do it again next year. Among the current juniors in the city, only a third -- 1,467 of 4,333 -- have met HSA requirements so far. This year, the city is faring better than Prince George's County, where, as of late March, 1,655 seniors (21.5 percent) were still trying to meet HSA requirements.

To give folks a sense of just how much work has been going on, I'm putting below the number of projects each city high school submitted in March and how many were accepted. Frederick Douglass High submitted the most projects: 208, of which 196 were accepted. Northwestern was No. 2, with 196 projects submitted and 181 accepted.

Officials say they expect that the only students in the city who won't graduate this year are those who wouldn't have graduated anyway: because of failed classes, missed service learning opportunities, etc. But the city has graduated about 4,000 seniors each of the past three years. To graduate 4,000 this year, all but 100 would need to get through. I understand that the size of the classes might be different, and that could skew the comparison, but I think it will be important for the public to know if, indeed, the HSA holds anyone back.

Continue reading "3,368 down, 802 to go" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

March 25, 2009

Figures on schools' HSA improvement

Here are data from the state showing how many seniors in Baltimore high schools have gotten through the HSA requirements since earlier in the year. (Note: The number of students considered to be part of the class of 2009 increased over the course of the school year, which is why the number of students who have not completed the HSAs increased in some cases. Figures do not account for the 1,759 Bridge projects just submitted, to be graded this weekend.)


Fall no. w/o HSA

Current no. w/o HSA


Academy for College and Career Exploration




Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts




Baltimore City College




Baltimore Freedom Academy




Baltimore Polytechnic Institute




Baltimore School For The Arts




Baltimore Talent Development




Carver Vocational-Technical High




Coppin Academy




Digital Harbor High School




Doris M. Johnson High




Dr. Samuel L. Banks High




Edmondson-Westside High




Forest Park High




Frederick Douglass High




Harbor City High School




Heritage High School




Homeland Security High School




Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship




Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High




National Academy Foundation




New Era Academy




Northwestern High




Patterson High




Paul Laurence Dunbar High




Reginald F. Lewis High School




Southside Academy




W.E.B. DuBois High




Western High




All schools




Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

How many seniors at your school haven't met HSA requirements?

Check out this chart for the number and percentage of seniors at most high schools in the region who had not yet met High School Assessment requirements as of earlier this month. The numbers are constantly changing; since these figures were calculated, 1,759 projects have been submitted in the city alone.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:53 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region, Testing

March 23, 2009

Another side of Northwestern High

I talked to Jason Hartling, principal of Northwestern High School. He says there were between 12 and 14 girls involved in Friday's cafeteria fight. School police maintain that it was at least 30. Hartling said the situation was contained and students were back in classes learning within 15 minutes.

In any event: As some of the teachers mentioned in comments, there is reason to celebrate over the school's success with Bridge projects. When Liz wrote about Northwestern in October, 165 seniors had not met graduation requirements either by passing the HSAs or earning a minimum combined score. Since then, Northwestern seniors have submitted 561 projects -- more than any other school in the city and more than all the schools combined in some other districts.

With about a 90 percent pass rate on the projects, more than 200 of Northwestern's 278 seniors now meet the requirements for graduation, and Hartling said another 50 are close -- with another project or two to finish up. He estimates that only a handful of seniors won't graduate because of the HSA requirements, and they're the ones who have not done what they're supposed to do. Seniors are giving testimonials to underclassmen about the importance of taking the HSAs seriously so they won't have to do the projects next year.

Getting to this point has been a ton of work, by staff and students. "We’re here on Saturday; we’re here after school," Hartling said. "I would put my staff up against any staff in the state. They just work incredibly hard."

And while we're on the subject of Northwestern: I've mentioned here before how impressed I am with its student newspaper, The Compass. And now, The Compass is online. In the current issue, students take their administration to task in an editorial for not having more Black History Month activities. Stories include a first-person account of attending President Obama's inauguration and a piece questioning whether it's right to lock student bathrooms during the day.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:18 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof), Testing

March 10, 2009

Changes at Dundalk High School

Tonight, the Baltimore County school board is supposed to consider a plan to give Dundalk High School something of a makeover - or what is officially called an "alternative governance plan."

As I mention in today's story, Dundalk has already had a new principal since July - and school officials are now in the process of interviewing and selecting teachers to replace the 20 to 25 percent who are leaving. Several other changes already have been made during this school year, including the use of a 90-minute daily reading instruction program to improve student performance in that area; HSA tutoring after school, Saturdays and in the summer; and professional development specifically tailored to teachers' needs.

But there are a number of other steps proposed in the plan, which officials were required to develop because Dundalk has not made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for its graduation rate, special education students and English language learners over the past five years (at different times).

Those steps include:

*Changing the department chairs in core subjects to 12-month employees, to enhance their effectiveness

*Collaborating more with fellow English-language-learner programs.  Dundalk is an ELL cluster school.

*Increasing the number of advanced placement courses offered. The plan includes a goal of raising the number of students enrolled in honors, gifted-and-talented and AP classes by 10 percent each year.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

February 23, 2009

In Baltimore schools, an influx of Bridge projects

It's doubtless been a busy weekend for the city teachers involved in scoring the record number of Bridge projects submitted last week by Baltimore seniors still scrambling to meet the state's HSA requirements. There were 1,335 projects in all: 309 in English, 343 in biology, 399 in algebra and 284 in government.

I'll give an update with the pass rates when I get them.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

February 13, 2009

National reading expert comes to Baltimore County

A group of Baltimore County educators spent today in reading presentations by literacy expert Dr. Richard Allington, whom I spoke with for a recent story about independent reading programs.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston introduced Allington, a professor of literacy studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as "the Bill Gates of reading."

He added that Allington is one of the few individuals in the country who truly understands the significance of that skill and has mastered the teaching of it -- "and is willing to share it with those of us who are in the trenches."

Allington does not mince words when it comes to his belief in the importance of properly teaching children how to read: allowing them to read what interests them, and giving them access to such material at their reading levels.

His morning session to BCPS administrators and principals did not spare anyone, as he condemned widely used, "one size fits all" reading programs that, he said, essentially do nothing for children. I thought I’d share some of his noteworthy observations here, as well as some references and links to material he cited during his presentation.

Continue reading "National reading expert comes to Baltimore County" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:13 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, SpecialEd, Teaching, Testing

February 6, 2009

Does passing test = passing course?

In Baltimore and around the state, educators are focused on getting the approximately 3,500 seniors yet to pass the High School Assessments to the finish line by graduation. Generally, these students made it to senior year having passed the courses related to the tests: Algebra 1, English II, biology and American government. But in Baltimore, a few hundred students fall into the opposite category. They've passed their HSAs but not yet the related courses. In some cases, they're still stuck in 10th or 11th grade as a result. Administrators are studying why this is, since to pass the tests, students have to demonstrate at least a basic level of proficiency. Were they truant from class? Did they have disciplinary problems? Fail to turn in homework?

Continue reading "Does passing test = passing course?" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:09 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

February 4, 2009

Maryland No. 1 again, in Advanced Placement pass rates

The College Board released its annual Advanced Placement report this morning. Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Maryland had the highest percentage of students with a passing score on at least one A.P. exam: 23.4 percent of the class of 2008, compared with about 15 percent nationally. Maryland is also one of six states highlighted in the report with the highest five-year gains.

The state today is calling attention to six high schools for their A.P. achievement: Polytechnic Institute in the city; Franklin, Perry Hall and Pikesville in Baltimore County; Broadneck in Anne Arundel County; and River Hill in Howard County -- plus two that were specifically singled out by the College Board, Eleanor Roosevelt in Prince George's County and Paint Branch in Montgomery County.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:35 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Testing

January 1, 2009

Putting the best SAT score forward

Happy new year! Moving now to the national education scene... The College Board has created a stir with a recent decision to let high school students pick which of their SAT scores get sent to colleges. In other words, students who take the test multiple times can opt to have only their best score show. Critics say this is unfair to low-income students who can't afford to take the test over and over. Some have gone as far as to call it a money-making scheme for the College Board by encouraging students to keep retaking the test.

As a New York Times article this week explains, some selective colleges have already decided not to participate in the new Score Choice plan, insisting on seeing all the scores a student earned.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:02 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Testing

November 2, 2008

High School Assessments: Are they finally for real?

In the ongoing saga that is the High School Assessments, my story in today's paper takes a look at how Baltimore County is tackling the 1,000+ students in the Class of 2009 who have yet to meet the test requirements for graduation.

An interesting theme developed as I spoke with principals about the work their schools have been doing with these students.  Several mentioned that one of the obstacles in this process has involved simply getting students to buy into the fact that these tests really do matter - and could keep them from graduating.

Sometimes, Parkville High Principal Stephen Edgar told me, "it's not about ability or their lack of ability.  It's about whether they take the test seriously or not."

Barbara Cheswick, the principal at New Town High, said she was "thrilled" to hear the state board had voted down a proposal to delay the HSA graduation requirement - in part because, since the tests' introduction, students haven't always bought into the fact that they were "the real thing."

Getting parents involved and aware of these requirements - and where their kids stand - has been one way schools have tried to bring home the reality of the situation, Edgar said.  When parents are also working on HSA exercises with their children, he said, it sends a message about their importance, reinforcing what students have been hearing in school.

I'm curious what educators and parents in other school systems have encountered...and what role they think student buy-in has played with the HSAs up until now.  Do you think the state's vote to maintain the graduation requirement will nix student doubts and get them to take these exams seriously?
Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

October 3, 2008

Weast and Grasmick spar over HSAs

Boy, have the words gotten angry between Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery County's school superintendent, and Nancy Grasmick, the state schools chief, over the High School Assessments.

Weast has objected before to aspects of the high-stakes tests that this year's seniors will have to pass before they can graduate in May, but this latest letter on Sept. 22 was written with unusually confrontational language. Weast wrote Grasmick saying that she ought to go easy on schools where a certain group of special education students hadn't been able to pass a new version of the High School Assessments.

Continue reading "Weast and Grasmick spar over HSAs" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:19 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

September 25, 2008

First results of the statewide science tests

More than half of the state's fifth and eighth graders passed the first science test given to students last year, according to results released this week by state officials.

The tests haven't gotten much attention recently because of the bottom line: They don't really count. Unlike the annual reading and math scores, which count toward whether a school attains the adequate yearly progress required under No Child Left Behind, the science tests are given to inform the public about how well their school may be teaching science.

Across the state, 64 percent of fifth graders and 61 percent of eighth graders were able to pass the tests. Those numbers are on par with how students scored when they first took the math and reading tests in 2003.

There is likely to be a shift in how some fifth- and eighth-grade teachers teach math, however, as they keep their lessons geared toward covering the material in the state's curriclum.

The results from the science tests aren't yet availabe on the state's Web site.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

August 14, 2008

The results are in: AYP 2008

Today, MSDE released the annual list of elementary and middle schools that did not meet adequate yearly progress, based on their Maryland School Assessment test results.  Seven school systems - including Carroll - had all of their elementary and middle schools meet AYP.

Check out the list for the entire state.  You'll notice the new labeling system that's being used this year. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:16 PM | | Comments (2)

July 18, 2008

More on the rising test scores

We've been theorizing a lot on the blog this week about what caused the jump in test scores this year in Baltimore in particular and in general statewide. Liz's story today offers a possible explanation: The tests this year were shorter and better aligned with the Maryland state curriculum, so students were likely less tired taking them and less likely to be presented with material they hadn't learned. But officials say the material tested was just as difficult as last year. And Dr. Alonso points out that Baltimore students still improved more than their peers in the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, an article in the current Education Week reports on two studies in New York City and Chicago that linked an increase in highly qualified teachers serving poor and minority children to better test scores there. While the article only examines those two cities (and Illinois in general), it suggests a trend in urban districts nationwide. Baltimore is one of a handful of systems lauded for aggressive recruitment programs in hard-to-staff areas. "Both studies show a shift in the long-observed trend that the most-qualified teachers appear to teach at the more affluent schools, while the poorest schools are usually staffed by teachers who are new or less qualified," the article says. 

The New York study is here (sorry, it costs $5 to read the whole thing). The Chicago study is here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching, Testing

July 17, 2008

A jump in seventh-grade MSA scores

Has anyone noticed how much the seventh-grade Maryland state test results went up in reading this year?

Across the state, 81.2 percent of seventh graders passed the reading MSA, up 10 percentage points from last year. In Baltimore City, the gain was much steeper, going up 18 points. In Prince George's, the scores were up 14 points. In Kent County, the increase was from 59 percent passing to 79 percent. In Baltimore County, the pass rate went from 68 percent to 81 percent.

Readers have asked how this could have happened in one year. The head of assessment for the state, Leslie Wilson, points out that there was a strong bump up in fifth grade as well. Her explanation is that if one looks back at how last year's seventh-graders did when they were in sixth grade, the results don't look as surprising.

In other words, we shouldn't be comparing this year's seventh-graders to the kids who were in seventh grade the year before, but to how they actually did when they were younger. Viewed that way, the results do look less startling.

For instance, 76 percent of sixth graders in 2006-2007 passed the state reading test. This year, 81 percent of those students passed the tests. In other words, the increase was just 5 percentage points. There are still some very large gains in Somerset and Cecil counties, for instance, which still went up more than 10 percentage points.

And there are still some increases that seem difficult to explain in other grades and on the math test. Are there any teachers or administrators who have theories on what happened?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Testing

July 14, 2008

MSA scores on the way

Stay tuned to The Sun and the state's Web site tomorrow for the release of this year's Maryland School Assessment results. Find coverage, including a database, about previous years here.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

April 22, 2008

Seattle teacher refuses to administer standardized tests

A lot of teachers complain about the state standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind, but how many refuse to administer them? Carl Chew, a sixth-grade teacher in Seattle did, and found himself suspended without pay for two weeks.

Here is his account of his experience, along with an essay he wrote about the reason for his decision.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB, Testing

February 21, 2008

The need for a balanced curriculum

It wasn't surprising. Every one of us who's been in a classroom lately has seen it: reading and math squeezing out other subjects like social studies, music and art. And this week a national report by the Washington think tank Center on Education Policy confirmed those observations. Check out my story on the findings today. Researchers found that on average districts beefed up reading time by 141 minutes a week, and increased math time by 89 minutes a week. Meanwhile, some districts sliced time in social studies by 76 minutes a week and cut art and music time by 57 minutes. Now, I'm not saying reading and math are bad. I know they form the foundation for success in other subjects like science and history. But how can American public schoolchildren hope to compete globally if they're receiveing a streamlined curriculum that's not well rounded? Think about it in terms of nutrition -- sure, protein is good for you, but to be healthy and energetic, you also need the carbs from whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Like a balanced diet -- isn't it important to have a balanced curriculum?  

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 10:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Teaching, Testing

February 14, 2008

AP or not AP?

It appears that my Advanced Placement story has stirred up a little discussion on The Sun’s Topix message board. 

In a nutshell, I wrote about the success that Maryland students have had in the national program.

Many on the message board are using the recently released results as ammunition in the Grasmick vs. O’Malley feud.

Through the course of reporting this story, I was struck by the fact that the AP program seems to be doing something that NCLB has not been able to do — encourage college-level curriculum. While some have argued that many states have begun to water down curriculum in order to meet NCLB growth requirements, the College Board, which administers the AP program, has beefed up its standards. This year, AP teachers were required to submit their course syllabuses to the College Board for review.

Can you provide me with examples of NCLB encouraging college-level courses? And please do not spurt out the term “highly qualified” teachers. I’ve covered education long enough to know that this is a laughable label…

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 4:05 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region, Testing

January 23, 2008

Paying for progress on HSAs

After several hours of reporting yesterday, I finally learned what the "incentives" line item in last night's city school board presentation meant: The system is going to pay kids who have failed at least one previous High School Assessment for improvement in their scores, up to $110 each.

The meaning seemed to be lost on some of the board members, too, judging by their discussion at the meeting. Afterwards, when I asked Dr. Alonso about the strategy, his reply was, "Why not?" He's willing to try anything to motivate kids at risk of dropping out or being denied a high school diploma. The nearly $1 million for incentives is part of a $6.3 million pot -- money previously entangled in a bureaucratic mess that was freed up for the city school system's use by the state -- for a variety of interventions to help students who are struggling on the graduation tests. Also in that pot is about $700,000 for peer tutoring and college student tutoring.

Nancy Grasmick signed off on the plan despite concerns about the lack of research to support financial incentives for students. (The system will survey all the students impacted to see what kind of effect the incentive offer has.) Alonso says that, in a nation where the majority of urban school systems are failing, he's got to take some risks.

I'm sure you folks will have plenty of opinions on this one... Is paying students to do well on a test a risk worth taking?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

January 9, 2008

Teachers, administrators cheating everywhere

It seems like everywhere I turn I’m reading about educators connected to cheating scandals.

This story in USA Today deals with a former national Principal of the Year, who resigned in connection with a case of alleged cheating and grade-tampering.

Last March, I wrote a story about the Maryland State Department of Education’s efforts to ensure security of the Maryland State Assessments when it randomly dispatched monitors to 45 schools.

The action dovetailed with reports of cheating the year before in Carroll and Charles counties.

Surrounding states were no different.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education sent out monitors to 3,120 schools last year -- for the first time -- to observe the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests. The New Jersey Department of Education, ripe with its own cheating scandals, increased its monitors by an undisclosed number. And the District of Columbia public school system used additional monitors. 

State assessment tests have added weight because of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which requires schools to increase assessment test scores each year.

Experts say that the added emphasis placed on assessment tests has led to some of the cheating. 

What do you think? Are the pressures caused by NCLB to blame for the improprieties?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, NCLB, Testing, Trends

December 10, 2007

U.S. fourth graders lag behind international peers in reading

Want your fourth grader to be a better reader? Send them to Russia, several provinces in Canada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, or Luxembourg. Take your pick.

According to results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy test, U.S. fourth graders – who took the test last year -- are lagging behind their international peers. Read more about the results here and here.

The results should be distressing to No Child Left Behind supporters because U.S. students scored about the same they did in 2001 – even though the federal act has placed more of an emphasis on reading since then.

I can’t wait to see what the readers have to say about this study. I’ve been reading the comments that Liz’s post yielded last week, and they got quite spirited.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:54 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the World, Testing

December 4, 2007

U.S. students scores mediocre

There is more bad news about how our students stack up next to their peers in other nations today. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released the results of its assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds in science, math and reading in the major industrialized nations. There were 57 nations that participated, 30 members of the OECD.

Our scores were flat since 2003 and continue to be below the average of of the 30 OECD countries and in the middle of all the countries where students were tested.

Here is what the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, had to say in a press release that arrived this morning.

"While disappointing, it speaks to what President Bush has long been advocating for: more rigor in our nation's high schools; additional resources for advanced courses to prepare students for college-level studies; and stronger math and science education. In fact, students are being assessed in science Under No Child Left Behind this school year. And, the President has proposed making science assessments an element of states' accountability calculations.

I wonder what teachers and principals out there believe? Do you think more testing in science would improve teaching and knowledge?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!, Testing

November 27, 2007

Report: GED pass rates down in U.S., Maryland

Welcome back to all of you InsideEd readers who have been glued to "developments" from today's peace summit-cum-conference-cum-"launchpad," where Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to try to agree on something more substantial than that before the end of the Bush administration. 

We offer you now a smooth transition back to the more provincial battleground of secondary education with some "facts on the ground" of our own, namely, the results of the 2006 GED test.

Yes, the results of last year's General Education Development test -- better known as the high school equivalency exam -- like beaujolais, est arrive! For those of you planning on actually reading the just-released report, we don't recommend popping the bottle just yet. It's a bunch of tables, and you'll need to focus.

But for the rest, kick back with a glass of young fermented grape juice, and skim the following Maryland-centric summary.

But first (for what our editors call "sweep"), the national context:

*More than 39 million U.S. adults lack a high school diploma, according to the 2000 census. That's 18 percent of the over-16 population.

*614,000 test-takers worldwide took the GED in 2006 and 68 percent of them passed, or 419,000 newly minted GED holders. Last year, 72 percent of test-takers passed.

*The average GED candidate in 2006 was 25 years old. Fifty-three percent were white, 23 percent black, and 19 percent Hispanic.

*States with the highest pass rates were more likely to require candidates to complete practice tests before taking the official test, according to the study. Iowa had the highest pass rate of nearly 99 percent, followed by Delaware's 94 percent. (Must be all that time studying while waiting in the toll-booth line.)

Now, for the Maryland results:

*There are about 618,000 Marylander adults without a high school diploma. Last year, about 8,100 Free Staters took the GED. Of those, 63 percent passed. (That's about 5 percentage points below the U.S. average, for those of you who skipped the national sweep and went straight for the terrapin meat.) Last year, Maryland's pass rate was 67 percent.

*African-American test-takers represented the largest percentage of GED candidates only in Maryland and Washington, D.C. In Maryland 49, percent of test-takers were black, though only 39 percent of successfull passers were African-American.

*Sixty-one percent of Maryland test-takers were male; nationwide, men comprised 56 percent of all GED candidates.

*The GED is offered in French, but no Maryland test-takers opted for the French version. In New York, 328 people took the French-language version. C'est la interesting bit of petite trivia, non?

Peace out.




Posted by Gadi Dechter at 3:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Testing

November 20, 2007

In honor of SAT season...

Remember studying lists of obscure vocabulary for the SAT, taking the test, and then wondering why none of those words were on it? Well, that vocab - or, at least, some rather challenging words - appears to be at

The site, which tests vocabulary, is not only an incredibly handy procrastination tool, but educational - and even philanthropic, according to its creators.

So take a turn and see how you score...

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Testing

November 19, 2007

Enrichment courses on the chopping block?

I was thrilled recently when I heard about the journalism club at New Town High School in Owings Mills. But the thrill was fleeting, as I found out in the same conversation with a teacher there that the club is all that's left for students after the school's journalism class was eliminated this year to make room in students' schedules for tutoring classes to help them pass High School Assessments. As most of you know, HSAs are given in four subjects --- algebra, U.S. government, English and biology --- and are a requirement for graduation starting with the Class of 2009.

When my stepdaughter was in high school, she'd grumble about an unappealing course and ask, "Why do I need to take this?" I'd tell her, "School is as much about learning how to read and write as it is about learning where your interests lie." I told her it was important to try a range of subjects so she could figure out what to pursue in college and in life. The talks didn't necessarily help her like those unappealing courses any more --- for instance, she learned she really didn't like algebra as much as she thought she didn't --- but the point was, she stuck it out, learned a thing or two and lived to tell about it.

I'll probably be sorry that I asked, but what other examples do you know about of enrichment classes that have suffered the same fate as the journalism class at New Town High? Do you see it as a necessary move to ensure students are passing these high-stakes exams, or do you worry that students are losing out on opportunities to broaden their academic horizons?

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Teaching, Testing, Trends

November 8, 2007

High School Assessment Perfect Scores

In the debate over the high school assessments, Howard County parent Sara Seifter asked a question that got lost in the shuffle of wider issues. She wanted to know why some highly able students she knows haven't scored in the stratosphere on these exams. She said these are kids who have aced their AP exams, get high scores on the SATs but don't score much above 490 out of 650 on these exams. Mind you, that is still about 100 points above passing. But she still wanted to know from the Maryland state school board why they weren't getting the maximum 650 or close to it. In her testimony to the state board she asked, "How is it that these students who are receiving 800s on their SATs are not receiving at or near a perfect score on the HSAs which are supposedly tests of basic skills?"

I asked Leslie Wilson, who's in charge of testing for the state board of education, to answer this question. She said there are some perfect scorers, but not many. Last year, of the roughly 55,000 students who took the test, 39 students had a perfect 650, the top score. Another 50 students scored in the 550 range or up.

Wilson says that the high school tests aren't designed like the SATs to measure high achievement or very low achievement. They are designed to concentrate on whether students pass or not...That is the English translation of the complexity of scoring.

Seifter would like the state to use a national test with a proved track record that students can look at and see where their weaknesses are.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Howard County, Testing

October 31, 2007

HSAs are here to stay... but with a project option

The state school board voted 8-4 today to continue requiring students starting in the class of 2009 to pass the four High School Assessments. But it will give an option of a senior project to students who fail the tests repeatedly. See Liz's story here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing

October 22, 2007

Should special ed students be required to pass the HSAs?

That's the quesion that Liz explores in her story today. How to test special education students has been a dicey subject for years. But previously in Maryland, much of the debate centered around the consequences for a school (i.e. sanctions under No Child Left Behind) if special education students weren't tested or couldn't pass standardized tests. With the advent of high school graduation exams, the students themselves could potentially be denied diplomas if they fail. Some advocates say the tests will ensure that schools give special education students a basic education, while others say they're unfair and can't account for the range of students' disabilities.

What do you think? Should special education students be held to the same standards as their classmates?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:20 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: SpecialEd, Testing

October 10, 2007

Interesting reading: Tested by Linda Perlstein

Barely a day goes by when I don't get a new education book in the mail, and -- truth be told -- most of those books go straight to The Sun's giveaway pile. But I held onto one that came a few weeks ago, called Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade.

The book was written by Linda Perlstein, whose work I greatly admired when she covered education for The Washington Post. For Tested, Perlstein spent a year at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, a school where the student population is largely poor and minority. She began her time at Tyler Heights when the principal and her staff were reveling in the news that their students had earned sky-high scores on the Maryland School Assessments, the tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. Immediately, they felt the heat to replicate that success the following year.

We often hear that No Child Left Behind is turning schools that serve impoverished kids into test-prep factories, at the expense of everything else. Tested goes inside one of those schools and shows us how that happens. It's particularly interesting in light of Eric Smith's appointment as Florida education commissioner this week. The story of Tyler Heights is part of the legacy he left behind in Anne Arundel County.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:44 AM | | Comments (1)

September 27, 2007

More on the test-optional directory

The folks at FairTest took issue with my headline for Tuesday's post about the group's directory of colleges and universities that don't require SAT or ACT scores. (See "A useful URL for bad test takers.")

Bob Schaeffer, FairTest's public education director, wrote in an email: "Of course, we'd argue that the list of 'optional' schools is useful for more than just bad test-takers. Many students with good (or even great) ACT/SAT scores apply to these institutions because of the message they send by evaluating a broader portfolio of talents." 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:03 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Testing

September 26, 2007

Report card day

Not for the kids, silly. For the nation. Tuesday marked the release of the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card. The test is significant because it compares the states against each other. The other standardized tests, the ones we obsess about, the ones mandated by No Child Left Behind (Maryland School Assessments here), vary from state to state, making comparisons nearly impossible.

I don't know about the other education reporters, but my inbox has been flooded with press releases giving different groups' spin on the NAEP results.

Maryland State Department of Education: "STATE STUDENTS SHOW ACROSS-THE-BOARD PROGRESS ON NAEP ASSESSMENTS" (talks about Maryland scoring above the national average in all four categories tested: reading and math in fourth and eighth grades, says growth is consistent with progress on other exams mandated by No Child Left Behind)

Advocates for Children and Youth (Baltimore-based advocacy group): "NEW NATIONAL SCORES SHOW MARYLAND STUDENTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK NATIONALLY IN READING, MATH" (says the state's kids are "stuck in the middle," many children left behind despite the state's wealth)

Southern Regional Education Board: "Many SREB States See Record-High Achievement in Reading, Math on 'Nation's Report Card'" (touts the gains of the states that belong to its consortium but questions whether individual states' tests are as stringent as NAEP, says Maryland had the nation's biggest percentage-point increase in the number of fourth graders scoring at the basic level in math)

American Federation of Teachers: "AFT Welcomes Good News in NAEP Scores, Warns of Troubling Signs" (focuses on eighth-grade reading scores, which have been flat since 2003, blames No Child Left Behind)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: "2007 NAEP Reports Sustained Improvement In Math Scores Nationwide in Grades 4 and 8" (says public attention to math instruction is paying off)

Don't know what to think? Judge for yourself here. And read Liz's story in today's Sun.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing

September 25, 2007

A useful URL for bad test takers

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, also known as FairTest, has compiled a database of 750 American colleges and universities that will not require most of their applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores this year. Check it out here.

FairTest, the nation's leading critic of the standardized testing movement, reports that more than 30 schools have eliminated admissions exam requirements since a new SAT was introducted in March 2005 and the ACT added an optional writing section. Goucher and Salisbury are among the Maryland institutions on the list.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, said in a press release: "The test-optional movement is nearing 'critical mass.' Each college that eliminates its entrance exams stimulates several more to reexamine their requirements."

FairTest argues that SAT and ACT results reflect racial, gender, language and income biases, are weak predictors of college academic performance and are "highly susceptible to coaching." Do you agree?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:11 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (6)
Categories: Testing

September 17, 2007

Teachers union ticked

In an email exchange this morning, Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, was smarting from comments that schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston made in discussing recent test results showing that less than half of the students at some largely minority schools had passed state exams required for graduation.

In my story last week, Hairston said that some of the county's high schools are not receiving "the same level or quality of education" as others. In addition to other reasons, he said that is partly because of a lack of leadership at some schools.

Cheryl agreed to let me share some of the comments from her email this morning:

Many teachers and principals are upset about Dr. Hairston’s comments, and that includes teachers in non-challenging high schools. They feel as if he put them under the bus and anyone in his leadership has no responsibility. The schools that didn’t pass HSA’s are our most challenging schools with a high turnover of administrators and teachers. They are the schools that have the same number of staffing as other schools and research shows lower class sizes works to improve achievement. They are the same schools that BCPS pilots or implements every program that comes down the educational bandwagon without the time to find out if the programs work or not. ...

Many teachers say they want time to teach and the appropriate resources to teach instead of time being taken away for this demand or that data collection requirement or new curriculum after new curriculum. We need to stop trying to beat the test and get back to good strong teaching. ...

I don’t understand how the Superintendent can fault the teachers and principals when leadership starts at the top. I have yet to learn about him or an area assistant superintendent going into one of our challenging schools, sitting down with all of the employees, and asking," What do you need us to do to help you be more successful in getting student achievement up?" It’s not a hard question, but maybe they are afraid of what they will have to do to help or afraid to acknowledge what they are doing isn’t working.

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:08 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Testing

September 14, 2007

Parent scores big

While others are talking about how parents need to get more involved, Rolanda Chambers, president of the New Town Parent Teacher Student Association in Owings Mills, is putting talk into action.

Sun columnist Milton Kent writes in today's Sports section about Chambers, who recently launched a program to help student-athletes boost their SAT scores.

Here's an excerpt from Milton's column:

"If the kids master the SAT, they can get into college even if they don't get scholarships," said Chambers, whose son is a sophomore on the junior varsity football team. "We just have to get them to pay more attention to the test."

Chambers said the disparity in standardized test scores between black students and those of other ethnicities may have a number of causes, but require a more intense effort by parents to prod their children to improve those scores.

"I just think that, overall, other parents put into play other things that are available, and African-American parents just usually don't," Chambers said. "So, where other kids are getting that boost that they need, our students don't. This is why such a program is necessary. It's doing what other parents are doing for their students, giving them that push outside the classroom for the SAT."

Read the rest of Milton's column and find out more about the SAT prep program.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Testing

September 7, 2007

What's the point of high school exit exams?

A new report from the Washington-based Center on Education Policy questions the purpose of those dreaded high school exit exams that students around the country must pass to graduate.

Sixty-five percent of students in the nation's public high schools must now pass exit exams to get a diploma. But of 23 states that responded to the center's questions, only six said the purpose of the tests is to measure the knowledge and skills students need to go to college. Nine said the goal was to measure students' readiness for the work world. The most common response: 18 states said the exams, generally at around a 10th-grade level of difficulty, are meant to determine if students are learning the state curriculum.

"States have poured valuable resources into exit exams without seemingly having a clear purpose for their use," Jack Jennings, the center's president and CEO, said in a statement. "And regardless of the aim of the tests, they are having a major impact on classroom teaching and learning, which leads to serious questions about the rigor of state standards and tests."

In Maryland, the tests are scheduled to take effect as a graduation requirement for the class of 2009, this year's juniors. But last week, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick suggested that schools offer students who fail the exams the option to demonstrate their proficiency through a senior project. That was a major departure from her previous position that students must pass tests in algebra, English, biology and government to graduate. The state school board will consider her project proposal next month.

According to the center's report, 26 states are expected to have exit exams in effect by 2012, impacting 76 percent of the nation's public high school students and 82 percent of minority students. Yet all states currently testing show significant gaps in pass rates among student groups, with blacks, Latinos, students with disabilities, and those learning English as a second language most likely to fail.

For more on the achievement gap on Maryland's exit exams, check out this week's story in The Sun by Gina Davis and Liz Bowie. The Center on Education Policy story is available here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing

June 15, 2007

Sun Exclusive: Maryland Report Cards

Looking for high-performing schools? Want to see how your children's schools stack up?

The Sun's exclusive Maryland Report Cards can help.

These comprehensive, downloadable reports provide the most useful look ever at Maryland State Assessment scores, all in easy-to-read tables. The reports include reading and math test results for every elementary and middle school in Maryland, plus a yearly progress indicator. They also introduce The Sun's own composite score, a single number that summarizes each school's academic performance.

To get your copies of the Sun Report Cards, visit

-- John-John Williams IV

Posted by Anica Butler at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing
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