Tests Reflect Increased Rigor in High School

December 5, 2002
A comparison of results released this morning [Thursday, December 5] by the state on the Maryland High School Assessments (HSA) show that the Montgomery County Public Schools outperformed or matched all other school systems in the state in all but one subject areas of the new tests, which are designed to examine the readiness of students for graduation.

Moreover, the performance of African American and Hispanic students in Montgomery County, while lower than their white and Asian classmates, nearly matched or outperformed some entire school systems on certain tests statewide.

“The data demonstrate that the continued push toward greater rigor in our academic program, particularly at the secondary level, is producing successful results,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education today on the initial results of the HSA and the final results of the last tests from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP).

The report, which includes individual school data, is available online at the link below in a report that includes the initial HSA data and the final results of MSPAP. Statewide data are available at the other link below.

Montgomery County students achieved substantially higher percentile ranks, not only systemwide but also when disaggregated by race and ethnicity. “In fact, the comparatively high performance of African American and Hispanic students -- at nearly the state median percentile -- reflects a significant achievement,” said Dr. Weast.

Montgomery County outperformed or matched the other school districts and scored well above the state's median percentile ranking in algebra, biology, geometry, and government. Howard County was ahead in English.

“The comparatively high performance of Montgomery County reflects, in part, the success of the Board of Education's emphasis on more rigor and accountability at the secondary school level,” said Dr. Weast. He pointed to specific efforts including implementation of countywide semester exams in each of the same subject areas measured by the state, the use of the PSATs among all 10th grade students, the emphasis on more students taking Advanced Placement courses and tests, and the introduction of the shared accountability model, with its focus on the attainment of increasingly more rigorous high school instruction in preparation for college-level studies.

Most recently, this emphasis has resulted in a higher percentage of students taking Algebra or higher-level mathematics in middle school (49 percent in 2002, compared to 41 percent in 2000) and a higher percentage of students taking at least one honors or Advanced Placement course in high school (64 percent in 2002, compared to 56 percent in 2000). The school system continues to have the highest average SAT score in Maryland (1095), with historically high results in mathematics (560) and 81 percent of students taking the test, the highest-ever participation rate for the county.

“As you know, Montgomery County has implemented a multi-faceted approach to secondary school reform that combines improvements in curriculum with strengthened staff development, enhanced grade-level planning, improved student counseling and encouragement, and ongoing classroom and departmental assessments,” said Dr. Weast.

“We have pursued this approach because of our strong emphasis on improving individual student performance, with a greater focus on teaching and learning what students should know and be able to do in each subject area,” he said.

“The state's own shift to a more balanced approach in its assessments, which now includes more emphasis on criterion-referenced tests such as the high school assessments and the new tests being introduced this spring in elementary and middle schools, will continue to demonstrate the best correlation of curriculum and assessment in preparing students for the rigors of high school and beyond,” he said.

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