Top schools on PARCC ex­ams vary ge­o­graph­i­cally

Sun anal­y­sis of math and English scores ranks Bal­ti­more-area schools

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Liz Bowie

Bal­ti­more Polytech­nic In­sti­tute has been pump­ing out top math and sci­ence stu­dents for more than a cen­tury. So per­haps it isn’t sur­pris­ing that the elite city high school has the high­est pass rate of any in the re­gion on the state’s tough new Al­ge­bra I exam.

But those Poly en­gi­neers don’t do badly in English ei­ther. Over­all, the school ranks in the top five in a Bal­ti­more Sun anal­y­sis of per­for­mance on the two ex­ams among schools in the Bal­ti­more re­gion. Other high schools at the top in­clude sub­ur­ban pow­er­houses Eastern Tech­ni­cal High School and the Western School of Tech­nol­ogy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence, both in Bal­ti­more County, and River Hill High School in Howard County. Ch­e­sa­peake Sci­ence Point, a small char­ter school in Anne Arun­del County, came in fourth.

The Sun anal­y­sis av­er­aged the 2016 scores on the Part­ner­ship for As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reer, or PARCC, to pro­duce a sin­gle pass­ing per­cent­age for each el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high school in the re­gion. The fig­ure rep­re­sents a school’s over­all pass rate for all grade lev­els on both the read­ing and math tests. Each school was then ranked.

While some su­per­in­ten­dents and teach­ers have ques­tioned the va­lid­ity of the test and whether stu­dents are pre­pared for it, oth­ers say that schools whose stu­dents are per­form­ing well on the PARCC are do­ing some­thing right.

The PARCC tests are giv­ing ed­u­ca­tors “some of the most re­li­able data we have seen,” said Ja­son Bo­tel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mary­landCAN, a non­profit that works for ed­u­ca­tion re­form. “It is data on an as­sess­ment that has been very care­fully cre­ated against ca­reer and col­lege stan­dards.”

The Sun’s anal­y­sis of PARCC per­for­mance found the top el­e­men­tary schools in

the re­gion in­clude Ship­ley’s Choice, Ben­field, and Fol­ger McKin­sey in Anne Arun­del County, Clarksville in Howard and Car­roll Manor in Bal­ti­more County.

The top five mid­dle schools in­clude Folly Quar­ter, Clarksville Mid­dle and Lime Kiln in Howard County, Sev­erna Park in Anne Arun­del and Fall­ston in Har­ford County.

More anal­y­sis of the data is needed to tell what is driv­ing the strong per­for­mance in some schools, Bo­tel said. He said ed­u­ca­tors should be look­ing at whether groups of stu­dents who aren’t pass­ing are im­prov­ing in large num­bers each year.

“We want to be hon­est about the fact that statewide and city­wide we have to im­prove the gaps along racial and eco­nomic lines,” he said.

Mary­land ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials have been dis­ap­pointed by achieve­ment statewide on the new tests, which re­placed the Mary­land School As­sess­ments two years ago. In most grades, fewer than half of stu­dents are pass­ing the ex­ams, the state’s re­sults have shown.

The PARCC tests were de­vel­oped to test knowl­edge of the Com­mon Core stan­dards that were in­tro­duced in Mary­land sev­eral years ago as a way to en­sure that high school grad­u­ates are pre­pared for col­lege or a ca­reer that pays a liv­ing wage.

Bo­tel said Poly per­formed bet­ter than might have been ex­pected com­pared to some sub­ur­ban high schools. But so did lit­tle New Song Acad­emy in Sand­townWinch­ester in West Bal­ti­more, par­tic­u­larly in lan­guage arts in mid­dle school, he said. Sixty-four per­cent of its eighth-graders passed, beat­ing the state av­er­age of 40 per­cent. A num­ber of top-ranked high schools have en­trance re­quire­ments. How­ever, they also have a larger share of low-in­come stu­dents than many schools. Half of Poly stu­dents qual­ify for a re­duced or free lunch, as do 37 per­cent at Western and 23 per­cent at Eastern.

When asked what helped their stu­dents suc­ceed, the prin­ci­pals of Ch­e­sa­peake Sci­ence Point, Eastern and Poly said their schools are com­mit­ted to keep­ing high aca­demic stan­dards and to pro­vid­ing ex­tra help to strug­gling stu­dents. At Eastern, prin­ci­pal Michelle An­der­son cited a fo­cus on read­ing and writ­ing in every class, which helps im­prove English skills.

“It be­comes a cul­ture in our school that we are geared to­ward aca­demic achieve­ment,” An­der­son said, adding that half an hour is built into the daily sched­ule for stu­dents to go to teach­ers for ex­tra help. Ed­u­ca­tors at Poly point to af­ter-school coach classes, while Ch­e­sa­peake pro­vides ex­tra help on Satur­days and tries to give ex­tra at­ten­tion both to the high­est achiev­ers and those who are do­ing poorly.

But the prin­ci­pals also be­lieve that build­ing a strong sense of com­mu­nity within the school is im­por­tant. “We have kids com­ing from di­verse com­mu­ni­ties. Once they get here it is like a melt­ing pot,” said Jac­que­line Wil­liams, prin­ci­pal of Poly. “We are the sec­ond fam­ily.”

Stu­dents at Poly say they ap­pre­ci­ate the school‘s high stan­dards.

“I think we are all in­ter­ested in go­ing to col­lege and we all mo­ti­vate each other,” said stu­dent Ce­sia Calero.

Sanja Shand, 17, said he was fo­cused on all the wrong things when he first came to Poly in ninth grade but did a 180-de­gree turn as his teach­ers de­manded more and showed they had faith in him.

“The teach­ers see some­thing in me,” he said.

Few schools are get­ting large num­bers of their stu­dents to score a 4 or 5 on the PARCC, which is con­sid­ered pass­ing. Stu­dents are tested in grades three through eight in read­ing and math. High school scores are based on a 10th-grade English test and al­ge­bra, which is taken by stu­dents in var­i­ous grades.

The top el­e­men­tary schools on the list are largely in Anne Arun­del and Bal­ti­more coun­ties. Ship­ley’s Choice, at No. 1, had an over­all pass­ing rate of 88 per­cent. In Bal­ti­more County, Car­roll Manor, Rider­wood, Sparks, Pinewood, West Tow­son and Rodgers Forge el­e­men­tary schools all place in the top 15 in the re­gion.

Clarksville and Cen­ten­nial Lane are top per­form­ers in Howard County. Car­roll, Har­ford and Bal­ti­more City schools do not have an el­e­men­tary in the top 20. The high­est-per­form­ing Car­roll County el­e­men­tary school is Hamp­stead, at num­ber 22. In Har­ford County it’s For­est Hill, num­ber 23.

In the city, the high­est-per­form­ing el­e­men­tary is Roland Park. It is ranked 55 among el­e­men­taries in the re­gion, with a com­bined pass­ing rate of 64 per­cent.

At nearly half of the city’s 124 el­e­men­tary schools, less than 10 per­cent of stu­dents passed the tests.

Test scores are of­ten closely cor­re­lated with a fam­ily’s in­come and ed­u­ca­tional back­ground, and The Sun’s anal­y­sis found that schools with wealth­ier stu­dents gen­er­ally did bet­ter on the rank­ings than those with large pro­por­tions of dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents. About 80 per­cent of city stu­dents qual­ify for the sub­si­dized lunch pro­gram.

Greg Bricca, head of ac­count­abil­ity in Car­roll County, said the PARCC re­sults are sim­i­lar to the re­sults of other state tests given an­nu­ally dur­ing past decades. Car­roll schools gen­er­ally do well in math com­pared to other ju­ris­dic­tions, and there are no schools where stu­dents are per­form­ing be­low the av­er­age of schools in the re­gion.

“Our stu­dents come to school in larger per­cent­ages ready to learn than in some other coun­ties,” Bricca said.

Among mid­dle schools, the high­est per­form­ing were in Howard County, which had eight of the top 15 in The Sun’s rank­ing.

Re­nee A. Foose, su­per­in­ten­dent of Howard County Public Schools, said she be­lieves the achieve­ment is due in part to the cur­ricu­lum writ­ten by the county’s teach­ers.

She also pointed to stu­dent as­sess­ments the county gives three or four times a year to pro­vide teach­ers with “ac­tion­able in­for­ma­tion” on what they should be teach­ing to im­prove stu­dent achieve­ment.

Bal­ti­more County’s mid­dle schools did not rank as high as its el­e­men­tary and high schools. Rus­sell Brown, the county’s test­ing chief, said he be­lieves this could be partly be­cause the rank­ings do not take into ac­count high-per­form­ing mid­dle school stu­dents who took the ge­om­e­try exam usu­ally given in high school.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Troy Mabry teaches a 10th-grade prob­a­bil­ity and sta­tis­tics class at Bal­ti­more Polytech­nic In­sti­tute, the Bal­ti­more-area high school with the high­est pass rate on the state’s new Al­ge­bra I PARCC exam.

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