By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO

Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) students are slowly but surely heading in the right direction with a higher percentage of students passing the current statewide 2017-2018 PARCC tests, compared to previous years. Yet, overall, City school students are still struggling with the lowest percentage of students passing the test of any jurisdiction in the state.

The good news is that students in close to one third of city schools – 68 to be exact – made progress in English Language Arts or Math scores. In cases like Mary E. Rodman Elementary School, students made double digit improvement in both English and Math competency.

Students of Mary E. Rodman Elementary school, where test scores are making prodigious progress. (Mary E. Rodman Elementary School/Courtesy Photo)

“There’s really no secret, just hard work, high expectations and an amazing staff,” said David Guzman, Principal at Rodman whose students achieved a 14 percent increase in math, the largest percentage increase in the city and a 10.6 increase in English Language Arts.

Mary E. Rodman was one of BCPSS’s most troubled schools in 2017-2018 school year. District administrators requested all the school’s teachers reapply for their jobs and many were reassigned to other sites.  Today, Rodman is part of a five-school consortium, called the %100 Project combining efforts to improve the performance of each of the schools.

“We have to keep the momentum going. We still have 80% of our children who are not at proficiency today.”

BCPSS CEO, Sonja Santilesis said the improvements were spread across traditional and charter schools. Some of the 68 schools whose students improved on the most recent PARCC testing are schools with a high number of underserved students, like Rodman and William Pinderhughes Elementary School, a site that had been under consideration for closure by the school board last year.

“It’s particularly encouraging to see the range of schools showing significant growth, which tells me that accelerated progress can happen for all students, regardless of their background or neighborhood,” Santilesis said.

Still, the overall pass rate on PARCC for Baltimore City Schools students continues to lag significantly behind students across the State. The 3rd through 8th grade English language arts pass rate (a score of 4 or 5) was 17.6 percent in Baltimore City compared with 41.6 percent statewide.

The math pass rate on PARCC for Baltimore City’s 3rd through 8th graders was 14.2 percent compared with a statewide pass rate of 34.1 percent statewide.

“We have to keep the momentum going. We still have 80 percent of our children who are not at proficiency today,” Guzman said.

City Schools Chief Academic Officer, Sean Conley is realistic about the long-range commitment needed to give students the tools to demonstrate English Language and Math proficiency.

“We are committed to providing high-quality learning experiences for students and families no matter what neighborhood they live in,” Conley said.

“Twenty of our schools now have coaches to support classroom teachers in building students’ skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening,” Conley added.

State officials are soberly reflecting on a one percent increase in aggregate PARCC score pass rate for all Maryland students.  PARCC score results for 2017-2018 were presented to the State Board of Education this week.

“Important efforts to improve students’ performance are taking place in our classrooms, and we all recognize that more work needs to be done,” said Karen Salmon, State Superintendent of Schools at the meeting in response to receiving the report after receiving the report.

Across the state, Black and Latino students are faring better than in previous years. While the percentage of improvement from 2017 to 2018 is higher for Black and Latino students, they are still scoring significantly lower than their white and Asian peers.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment is administered to students in grades 3-through-8 and 11 to measure competency in English Language Arts/literacy and math in Maryland, five other states and the District of Columbia.

PARCC tests evaluate students’ “readiness for career and college” on a five-point scale.  Scores of 4 (passing) and 5 (proficient) are considered successful indicators that students have mastered subject material. Students scoring 3 or lower are invited to retake the test.