MCPS Scores on HSAs Exceed Results for State

March 4, 2004
The percentage of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students who earned a passing score on four High School Assessments (HSAs) in 2003 exceeds statewide results by 14-17 percentage points.

MCPS students who earned a passing score on each of the 2003 HSAs - algebra/data analysis, biology, English 9 and government - ranged from 56.3 percent on the English 9 exam to 77.3 percent on the government exam.

The Board of Education discussed results of the 2003 HSAs and implications for curriculum, assessment and monitoring at its February 23 meeting as the school system works toward preparing students to pass the exams as a possible graduation requirement starting in 2009.

The Maryland State Board of Education (MSBE) voted last December to draft regulations to link passing the HSA to high school graduation, beginning with students slated to graduate in 2009 (current seventh grade students). The MSBE will be voting in June 2004 on a final decision about linking high school graduation to passing the four HSAs.

HSA performance

HSA results show that more MCPS students took each of the assessments in 2003 than in the previous year. The percentage of students earning a passing score on the government assessment increased by 5.1 percentage points over the 2002 results. On the other three assessments, the percentage of students earning a passing score declined by a range of 0.9 to 5.4 percentage points, compared with 2002 results.

A substantial achievement gap among racial/ethnic groups exists on each of the tests. The percentage of African American and Hispanic students earning passing scores ranged from approximately 31 percentage points lower than their Asian and white counterparts on the government test to 44 percentage points lower on the algebra test.

Statewide, the percentage of students who passed an HSA ranged from a low of 39.6 percent in English 9 to a high of 60.2 percent on the government test, well below MCPS scores.

Issues and challenges

Because MSDE does not provide subscores for the HSA, there is no way to determine specific instructional implications based on the test results, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said in a memo to the Board. “As a result of this lack of specific information from the state, we have determined that it would be inadvisable to make significant instructional decisions based on a simple total score,” Weast said. In contrast, he noted, MCPS semester final exams have been designed to mirror the HSAs and to provide detailed results that identify areas of strengths and weaknesses and can be used to inform classroom instruction and curriculum revision when necessary.

MCPS is addressing issues related to the HSAs in the areas of curriculum and instruction, literacy, staff development, student motivation, and monitoring and accountability.

In the area of curriculum and instruction, the Board approved the MCPS High School Curriculum Frameworks for the HSA courses in February 2003. Instructional guides developed for these courses by the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs (OCIP) are being implemented for the first time during the current school year. Each guide provides a challenging curriculum, aligned with the Maryland content standards, that provides a foundation for the HSA. The guides also include assessments that mirror the content and format of the HSA.

The literacy needs of most middle school students will be met through the curriculum and embedded literacy instruction and, for those who require additional support, through the middle school after-school intervention program. High school literacy needs are addressed in high school content courses. At the middle school level, reading intervention is in place for students who are not performing on grade level through new curriculum and instructional guides in Reading 7 and Reading 8 courses. At the high school level, literacy instruction occurs in English 9 and through reading and writing instruction in content-area courses.

The Office of Staff Development and OCIP have collaborated to provide professional development for teachers implementing the revised curriculum in the HSA courses. OCIP supervisors and specialists also have been working with teachers of special populations, including English language learners and special education students, to provide differentiated strategies that lead to success on the HSAs and other assessments.

Student motivation also is an important area. School districts are required to record HSA results on each student's transcript, which become part of a student's college application. “Principals and teachers must continue to help students understand the significance of the HSAs, set clear expectations for students and establish a positive school climate that says, 'these tests matter',” Weast said.

In the area of monitoring and accountability, community superintendents and directors of school performance work closely with principals to monitor instruction and curriculum implementation, regularly attending meetings and participating in school visits and walk-throughs. The Office of School Performance (OSP) and OCIP collaborate to provide feedback to schools about implementation of the curriculum, particularly in HSA courses.

Next steps

During the current school year, the Office of Shared Accountability (OSA) is conducting an evaluation of the implementation of Algebra 1 in the 45-minute instructional period in several middle and high schools. In addition, OCIP and OSP plan to collaborate on program reviews of algebra and English 9 at four or five high schools during this spring semester.

OCIP and OSA collaboration includes plans for gathering data on the HSA results for students who had the same teacher for both semesters. It is believed that linking first and second semesters with the same teacher in the HSA courses would allow effective use of first semester final exam diagnostic information, along with more personalized instruction.

Program supervisors continue to revise and refine countywide final exams in the four HSA subjects.

As the state revises the HSA requirements, MCPS will continue to provide communication and outreach to parents and students.

<<Back to browse