HSAs highlight racial gap


Dec. 19, 2002, midnight | By Anna Schoenfelder | 18 years, 1 month ago


The scores for last year's High School Assessment (HSA) exams were published on Dec 5. The results received a mixed response from teachers and administrators.

Mean scores for Montgomery County were among the highest in the state. For example, the median percentile rank of English scores in Montgomery County was 67 out of 100, higher than any other county's rank.

According to Walter Gibson, director of the Downcounty Consortium, the MCPS scores show that county programs are paying off. "Montgomery County scores are significantly higher than the median score," he said.

However, Montgomery County's scores are nothing to be proud of, said Peter Beckjord, a longtime MCPS math teacher. "We are the top of the bottom. Everyone scored poorly on this test," Beckjord said.

Individual tests are graded relative to the scores of all test-takers, a method also used on the SATs. Statewide, student scores indicate that there is significant room for improvement. Top-scoring Montgomery County had a mean scale score of only 413 out of a possible 800 on the English HSA.

Beckjord believes an extremely low passing score will be set when HSAs are made a graduation requirement. "[MCPS] can't afford to fail more than 1 percent of the population. Fewer people graduating means the school system is not doing an adequate job. And heads would roll," he said.

Additionally, the differences in scores between races reflect a substantial achievement gap statewide, according to Joseph Hawkins, a former MCPS data analyst. Hawkins cited Blair as an example of a particularly glaring achievement gap. "At Blair, the average percentile score for black kids for Algebra is 36 [out of 100]. That's pretty awful," Hawkins said. In comparison, Asian students scored in the 83rd percentile.

Gibson agrees that the racial gap is a problem but points out that it takes time to close the gap because the divide begins at extremely young ages.

The Maryland State Department of Education did not set a passing rate by which to judge HSA scores. Critics believe the lack of a set standard prevents meaningful analysis of performance. "If there is no absolute standard, you can't tell if it means anything," Hawkins said.

According to the MCPS website, the passing rate will be set after the second year of testing.

This year, scores of ninth- and tenth-graders will be printed as percentile rankings on their transcripts. The class of 2007 will be the first required to pass the test to graduate.




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