Washington County Public Schools focus on boosting student literacy

November 04, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |

Washington County Public Schools officials emphasized the school system’s renewed focus on improving students’ literacy skills last week after information about high school assessment test results from the 2011-12 school year was released by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Systemwide, the school system missed proficiency targets for reading among five population groups: all students, black students, white students, special-education students and students who received free or reduced-priced meals, said Jeremy Jakoby, testing and accountability supervisor for the local school system.

Across the system, 86.8 percent of tested students scored at least “proficient” at reading, Jakoby said. The progress target for the school system was 88.3 percent.

“I don’t think we were surprised by the results. We have been doing well in math for a long time. And we have been working on improving literacy scores for a while,” said Richard Akers, director for secondary schools and student services.

With the Oct. 31 release of high school assessment results and the July release of assessment test results for grades three through eight, the school system now has a better picture of how it did systemwide.

The school district began using a testing system called measures of academic progress testing to measure reading and math growth for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Akers said.

The school system has for a couple of years implemented an approach that emphasizes literacy in all courses, under which students usually read nonfiction appropriate to that course and also learn to write in a style appropriate for that course.

That could include writing as a historian for history courses and writing as a scientist for science courses, Akers said. That strategy helps students improve their vocabulary and reading fluency, he said. It also is used to help students be successful with the new, more rigorous Common Core curriculum the school system has been integrating, Akers said.

To graduate, students must take High School Assessment tests in 10th-grade English, algebra and biology. They either must pass all three tests, earn a combined score of 1,208 on those three tests, receive a waiver, earn a passing score on approved substitute tests, complete a bridge project for each subject, or pass a combination of HSA tests and bridge projects.

No waivers were issued to Washington County Public Schools students in 2012, nor did any students use a substitute test that year, Jakoby said.

Starting with the Class of 2012, students no longer needed to pass a government HSA test to graduate, but that requirement will return for freshmen during the 2013-14 school year, according to Jakoby and the state education department.

The labels used for schools that missed proficiency in past years, such as “school in improvement” and “alert school,” are no longer used because Maryland received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in regard to meeting No Child Left Behind benchmarks.

The previous benchmarks would have required every student to be at least proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.

The new standards set different goals for reading and math for each school, using the 2010-11 results as a baseline. The six-year target is for each school to reduce by 50 percent the number of students who scored “basic” in reading or math based on the 2010-11 school year.

Graduation rates, ‘confidence interval’

One of the areas for which schools have proficiency targets is the graduation rate, Jakoby said.

Starting with the Class of 2010, the graduation rate has been calculated by a method known as the four-year adjusted cohort method. The rate tracks each class of new freshmen to determine how many graduate in four years.

Countywide, the school system’s graduation rate improved from 89.8 percent in 2010 to 90.4 percent in 2011, Jakoby said. The progress target for 2011 was 90.1 percent, he said.

Similar to the progress targets for assessment tests, the progress target for the graduation rate is determined for each high school by using its 2010 graduation rate as a baseline, Jakoby said. Each high school is to make progress toward a 95 percent graduation rate each year, he said.

The graduation rate for 2012 will not be available until January, he said.

Regarding the High School Assessments, several county high schools met their reading and/or math proficiency targets by being within a “confidence interval.” The state uses a confidence interval, similar to a margin of error, because the accuracy of measuring student performance is more accurate when there is a greater number of students within the demographic population being assessed, according to the state education department’s website at While the actual progress target, or annual measurable objective, is a specific percentage of students, the confidence interval is a range of percentages.

Among county high schools, two missed the proficiency mark and confidence interval in at least one area, according to

North Hagerstown High School missed its 2011 progress target for the graduation rate among students who receive free or reduced-priced meals, according to state data.

South Hagerstown High School missed its 2011 progress target for the graduation rate among special-education students, according to state data.

South High also missed its 2012 math proficiency target for special-education students, according to state data.

Jakoby said the school system is appealing the latter case because school system officials do not believe the state’s determination included the performance of several special-education students who were successful with alternative math exams.

The school system was successful with an earlier appeal regarding E. Russell Hicks Middle School’s assessment test results.

When Maryland School Assessment data was released in July, the state website listed Hicks Middle as not meeting reading proficiency standards for all students last school year. Jakoby said the website was wrong and the school did meet proficiency. Hicks’ data was recently updated at the state education department website and it is now listed as meeting all proficiency standards.

The middle school results for Hancock Middle-Senior High School were released with the high school data. Hancock met its middle and high school progress targets.

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