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Washington County students score big on assessment tests

August 23, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Only one of Eddie Morris' students failed to pass the Maryland High School Assessment for algebra this year.

"That student only missed it by one point," Morris, a South Hagerstown High School teacher, said. "I think it's great. Those kids worked so hard."

Washington County Public Schools students scored above state averages in three assessments required for graduation - biology, algebra and government - according to data released this week.

Washington County had a higher percentage of students than any other state school system pass the algebra exam. The county also had the highest percentage of African-American students pass the algebra exam - 70.5 percent, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

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"These are phenomenal," Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "We've come a long, long way."

Results of the English assessments will be released in September.

The percentage of students passing the assessments rose in most cases. In 2005, 73.9 percent of the county's high school students passed the algebra test. This year, that number rose to 88.2 percent, according to state data.

Morris, who taught three algebra classes last year with about 90 students, said he attributed the increases at his school to teacher cooperation, an increase in technology and hard-working students.

The school system was moving its government course in 2005 from ninth grade to 10th grade. Not enough students took the High School Assessment in that subject in 2005 to have comparable data.

In 2004, 66.7 percent of students passed the test. In 2006, 80.5 percent of students passed, according to state data.

The percentage of high school students who passed the biology exam in 2005 was 67.8 percent, which rose to 80.1 percent this year, according to state data.

Perhaps the most significant increases were among the county's African-American students, who made gains in each subject tested.

About 70 percent of African-American students passed the algebra exam, 16.7 percent more than last year, according to state data. Of the 150 African-American students who took the government exam, 67.3 percent passed, 21.5 percent more than in 2004. The number of students who passed the biology exam also increased by more than 6 percent.

"These results indicate that the specific middle and high school initiatives we have put in place since 2001 have been worth the efforts," said W. Edward Forrest, Washington County Board of Education president.

Each of the 42 Hancock Middle-Senior High School students who took the biology exam passed the assessment.

Boonsboro, Clear Spring, Hancock, North Hagerstown, Smithsburg, South Hagerstown and Williamsport high schools each had significant increases among students with disabilities on the algebra assessment, according to state data.

Morgan said the school system has improved teaching methods, increased interventions for students having difficulty, increased Advanced Placement enrollment and course offerings, and increased rigor and expectations throughout middle and high schools. Student achievement specialists also played a part in the success of the county's students.

"This is not a magic pill that kids take," Morgan said. "This is hard-core good teaching."

According to state data, overall pass rates statewide increased over last year. The pass rate for government improved from 66.4 percent in 2005 to 74.2 percent this past spring; the pass rate for biology improved from 57.6 percent to 67.8 percent; and the pass rate for algebra improved from 53.8 percent to 66.6 percent.

Students who entered high school in 2005-06 and who are expected to graduate in 2009 will be the first group of students who must take and pass the High School Assessments in order to receive a Maryland High School Diploma.

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