Class of 2009 Met New HSA Requirements; Dropout Rate Falls - Southern Maryland Headline News

Class of 2009 Met New HSA Requirements; Dropout Rate Falls

BALTIMORE (September 21, 2009) - Nearly 60,000 students graduated in the Class of 2009, while the dropout rate for the senior class fell to 2.6 percent, according to data released today to the Maryland State Board of Education.

The 2008-2009 senior class was the first one for whom passing the High School Assessments (HSAs) was a graduation requirement. Only eleven students statewide failed to graduate solely because of the HSAs, the new data found.

The State Board voted in 2004 to make passing the HSAs a requirement for the Maryland High School Diploma starting with the Class of 2009, a measure supported by a broad cross-section of business and higher education leaders. The new data shows that the assessments-in algebra/data analysis, biology, English 2, and government-did not prove to be a barrier to graduation.

"We heard often over the past year that principals, teachers, and superintendents followed the progress of each individual student and worked hard to assure they were successful. I want to applaud our educators statewide for making every student count and for making certain that so many students graduated on time," State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said of the new results. "The HSA requirement added a new dimension, and the data shows teachers and students were not intimidated. But we should add that this is a new floor, not a ceiling. We must continue to raise standards to make certain our students are college- and work-ready."

More than two-thirds of Maryland's graduates met the HSA threshold by passing each of the four exams outright-41,066. Others took advantage of important alternative routes to complete the requirement.

An additional 9,617 students (16 percent) met the HSA requirement by achieving 1602 points total across the four assessments-commonly known as the "combined score option." Another 3,481 students (6 percent) used the Bridge Plan for Academic Validation to pass the HSAs. The Bridge Plan was a rigorous project-based alternative that proved to be an effective teaching tool for participating students.

Seniors who entered high school prior to 2005-another 3,418 students (6 percent)-were not required to pass the four HSAs, but are counted in the graduating class. Finally, less than one percent of the class (531 students) was given a waiver from the requirement because of specified extenuating circumstances. The State Board had set into place a limited waiver provision for some students-for reasons ranging from scheduling difficulties to inadequate intervention opportunities-which interfered with the student abilities to meet the requirement.

The dropout data included in today's release was particularly gratifying, as some had wondered if the HSA requirement would cause a spike in the number of students leaving school. MSDE staff said there is evidence to suggest that the opposite actually occurred. Only 2.6 percent of the senior class dropped out of school, compared to 3.4 percent in 2008.

Governor Martin O'Malley put an additional spotlight on the new graduation data. "Once again, the students and teachers of our One Maryland have proven their ability to shine in response to high expectations," Governor O'Malley said. "Thanks to the hard work of our State Board of Education and the people of MSDE, we now have a longitudinal data system that can track this type of information for each student throughout their time in Maryland public schools. This information not only allows us to identify trends, but it allows the professionals within our schools to intervene where a problem is recognized and get each student on the right path to success and ultimate graduation. Together, we're strengthening the nation's number one public school system and building it to compete with our counterparts around the world."

Baltimore City's work to reduce dropout rates in its high schools and to recruit dropouts back into high school has contributed well to Maryland's overall improvements by reducing the number of City dropouts in the 2009 cohort. As a result, Baltimore City reduced its dropout rate in 2009 so that only six out of a hundred students dropped out last year-a 40 percent reduction over three years.

"I want to credit Dr. Alonso for his commitment to erasing the dropout problem in Baltimore," Dr. Grasmick said. "Statistically, we are required to report Baltimore City's graduation rate as 62.69 percent in 2009. Because MSDE has now assigned a unique student identification number as part of the longitudinal data system, we now know much more about students statewide. For Baltimore City, the data system and the analysis by the City now allow us for the first time to identify their recovered dropouts who go on to graduate."

She added, "If we were permitted to include such students in our federal accountability reports, we would be comfortable in describing their graduation rate as 66.62 percent. In an effort to provide more transparency about high schools for all school systems, we plan to expand our report card website in the next year to include other data about high schools, including several different graduation rate calculations. More data such as this helps us dig deeper to find successes to celebrate statewide as well as solutions to problems."

Today's data release includes a variety of information about the Class of 2009 and the state's schools and school systems. For example:

-- The Bridge Plan option proved particularly important to special education and limited English proficient (LEP) students, for whom language difficulties can act as a barrier to proving knowledge on traditional tests. Approximately 13 percent of special education and 8 percent of LEP students used the Bridge Plan to meet their HSA requirements.

-- The graduation rate improved in 2009, rising slightly from 85.1 to 85.2 percent. The rate improved for both African American and Hispanic subgroups.

-- Nearly 80 percent of Maryland high schools (78.6 percent) made federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets.

All 2009 school and system data will be available on the updated website on Tuesday.

Source: Md. State Dept. of Education

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