ANNAPOLIS – African-American, Hispanic and Native-American students performed far worse than Asian and white students on a series of tests that may eventually be a statewide graduation requirement, reconfirming a widening achievement gap.
Maryland’s High School Assessments test students in five areas — English I, algebra, geometry, biology and government.
On average, Asian and white students statewide scored higher than at least 61 percent of students on all five exams. The average African-American, Hispanic or Native American student, however, scored no higher than 45 percent of all test-takers on any of the exams statewide.
“What it shows is that there is some difference in how children are learning,” said Maryland education department spokesman Bill Reinhard. “There is still that persistent achievement gap. The ultimate goal is to eliminate all those gaps.”
Students in high schools and middle schools throughout the state who completed one of the five courses last school year were tested in January and May.
The Board of Education will most likely vote this summer on whether passing the High School Assessments should be a graduation requirement and, if so, what the passing scores will be, Reinhard said. Students now are required to take the tests, but don’t have to meet a specific score to graduate.
The state education department began discussing the tests more than a decade ago, Reinhard said. Educators were concerned that students at different high schools were not learning the same skills.
Montgomery County students received some of the highest scores in the state, either matching or surpassing other counties on all but one test.
“The results are a good first step, underscoring the strength of our curriculum reform efforts and indicating where continued improvements are necessary,” said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Brian Porter.
Howard County students were also top scorers in the assessments. Their achievements, however, should not overshadow the disparity in test scores between races, said Leslie Wilson, Howard County director of student assessment and program evaluation.
“We know that we’re fairly pleased with the performance,” Wilson said.
But, “as long as we have one (an achievement gap), we’re not happy. That’s where we’re putting our focus,” she said.
African-American, Hispanic and Native American students in Baltimore and Dorchester County consistently ranked among the tests’ lowest scorers.
Both Montgomery and Howard counties attributed their success to encouraging students, especially minorities, to take more rigorous courses and providing individual student attention.
“If we don’t catch them up, that gap gets wider and wider every year,” Wilson said. – 30 – CNS-12-6-02