When Maryland’s top school officer proposed that the state back away from its tough high school testing program last week, one reason might have been the troubling performance of some suburban schools.
An alarming pattern of failure is surfacing: Minority students, especially African-Americans, are struggling to pass the exams in the suburban classrooms their families had hoped would provide a better education.
Baltimore City and its suburbs released school-by-school results last week for the Class of 2009—the first group that must pass the statewide High School Assessments in algebra, English, biology and government to get a diploma.
What they show is that in Baltimore County alone, nearly a third of the system’s roughly two dozen high schools had pass rates of 60 percent or less. Also, high schools with predominantly African-American populations, such as Randallstown and Woodlawn, had passing rates mostly below 50 percent.
The results were similar, if not so pronounced, in Anne Arundel County, where some of the most urbanized schools—North County, Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Meade—performed well below the rest of the system.
Educators point to the gap in achievement between African-Americans and whites as one reason for the slump among inner suburban schools—although not the only one.
Until now, the achievement gap in Baltimore County has been masked by county averages. Some of Maryland’s highest-performing schools are in the county’s largely white and well-to-do northern corridor, including Towson, Dulaney, Carver and Hereford high schools. Those schools, along with the Eastern and Western technical magnets, boost the county averages.
African-Americans have long been migrating from Baltimore City to county neighborhoods. The number of African-Americans enrolled in county public schools has increased by 21 percent since 2000, and minorities account for almost 50 percent of the school population.
To be sure, Baltimore City’s neighborhood high schools reported bleak results this year, with some pass rates lower than 20 percent. On the other hand, the city’s perennial high performers, the citywide academic magnets—Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Western High, the School for the Arts and City College—had pass rates similar to top suburban schools.
The latest round of test scores indicates how serious the results would be for many middle-class families if large numbers of children are denied a diploma in 2009.
In Baltimore County, Campbell worries that suburban teachers are too reluctant to criticize students in predominantly African-American schools—and unwittingly set them up for failure.
“There’s a racial divide in our schools,” Campbell [Ella White Campbell, a retired city educator and executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council] said. “One of the reasons students are failing is that too many teachers, especially in minority schools, believe they shouldn’t correct black kids’ language. In other words, this is the way they talk, and you just accept it. . . . But you must correct them, because you’ve got to remember that the bedrock for all these tests is English.”
Like Maryland officials, administrators elsewhere have opted for an alternative to testing—at least for a few years to give stragglers a chance to catch up.