HSAs rise

April 28, 2005, midnight | By Clair Briggs | 16 years, 1 month ago

Gainous still fears for future

The High School Assessment (HSA) scores for 2004 show that Blair improved from 2003 in all four subject tests. However, 38 percent of Blair students still would not have earned diplomas last spring if passing the tests had been mandatory for graduation.

Starting with next year's freshmen, every Blair student will be required to pass all four instated HSA tests in order to graduate: English; Algebra I; National, State and Local Government (NSL) and Biology.

Principal Phillip Gainous said he is “scared as hell� about what will happen to Blair by 2009 under state and federal standards. If Blair's scores do not improve, Assistant Principal Linda Wanner expects the state will “take a long, hard look at the school.�

Blair's performance varied in the subject areas: Biology and NSL yielded relatively strong scores, while the English and Algebra I scores are still not up to par, according to Blair administrators. In English, the percentage of passing students increased by almost 16 percent to 62 percent; in Algebra I, scores increased by almost 31 percent to 42 percent; in Biology, scores increased by almost two percent to 68 percent; and in NSL, scores increased by ten percent to 78 percent.

Gainous said the results are still unacceptable. “When you put the weight of graduation behind our performance, we're making small gains but not enough to be even satisfactory,�
he said.

Despite improvements from last year's scores, a wide achievement gap still exists between Latino and black students. In Algebra I, more than 37 percent of Latino students and black students passed, whereas more than 57 percent of whites and Asians passed. In English, over 37 percent of Latino and black students passed, whereas more than 71 percent of Asian and white students passed.

The achievement gap exists not only in Blair but also around the county and the state, according to 11th grade Assistant Principal Linda Wanner.

Tenth grade Assistant Principal Suzanne Harvey said that the rise in Algebra I scores was still not enough. However, she explained that the scores are not truly representative of many Blair students, as many students take the Algebra I course and corresponding HSA in middle school, where their scores are not factored into Blair's total.

Although English scores improved overall among Blazers, only about two percent of the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students who took the English subject test passed. While this is an improvement from 2003 when no ESOL students who took the English HSA passed, scores are still too low and still do not meet state and federal education standards, according to ESOL teacher Margarita Bohorquez.

Gainous stressed the new initiative he is implementing to work with the schools that feed into Blair. “I'm working with middle schools and elementary schools so that when the kids get here they have stronger academic skills,� he said.

Teachers are also being trained to teach students how to write the Brief Constructed Responses and Extended Constructed Responses that are required on the HSAs. The improvements in Blair's performance reflect the effectiveness of new initiatives taken by departments, said Harvey.

Some teachers are coordinating their curriculum with the requirements for the HSAs that are posted on the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) web site, according to Harvey. She explained that there is a voluntary state curriculum with which not all county curriculums are aligned, which means that many Maryland students may not have covered all the information that is on state-mandated exams.

Administering the HSAs to ESOL students is a problem because the tests are designed for native English speakers, according to ESOL Resource Teacher Joseph Bellino. He estimates that it takes at least five years of classroom instruction before non-native speakers are able to master English.

Bohorquez believes that there should be separate HSA exams for ESOL students because the students are not given enough time to reach the higher level of English that the HSA demands. “It's almost like they are being tested on two things at once; they have to learn the material for Biology or NSL and then answer questions in another language,� she said.

This year, the test will be even harder to pass, according to Bellino. The English HSA is now given to tenth grade students, and it is a combination of last year's MSA reading assessment and ninth grade English HSA.

Even so, the tests cover important concepts that students should know by the time they graduate, according to Bill Reinhard, an MSDE specialist with the Office of Academic Policy. “This test was mapped out by teachers and covers the fundamentals of each subject,� he said.

By the year 2009, passing this test should no longer be an issue for students, according to Reinhard. “Kids have 12 opportunities to pass this exam throughout high school, and those who don't pass it are given extra assistance,� he said.

Reinhard believes the test scores will continue to improve as the community begins to take the standardized tests more seriously. “Now that they [will] count, everyone's starting to pay attention,� he said.

Junior Mac Kpadeh said that because students know the scores currently do not affect them, many do not even attempt to succeed on the tests. “A lot of the time during tests, people around me put their head down and go to sleep,� he said.

Harvey hopes that programs like “It Counts,� which aim to educate students about the meaning of the HSAs, will heighten student awareness about the importance of these tests. “The kids are missing the opportunity to really do well if they don't try on them. They should want practice for when it really counts so they can do well down the road,� said Harvey.

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Clair Briggs. Clair Briggs is a junior in the Blair Magnet. She's really excited to be a part of Silver Chips this year! In her free time, Clair likes to spend time with her friends and she likes to eat Chipotle. She loves country music, California, and … More »

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