GBC’s Fry: Ironies amid test scores at Baltimore City schools

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

In making Baltimore City public schools a key campaign issue, Maryland’s top candidates for governor voice competing views on city school system efforts to foster academic success in an urban, poverty-challenged environment.

The reality is that Baltimore’s public school system is an enigma. It, indeed, ranks below most others in Maryland when it comes to overall student achievement.

But it also produces some schools with extraordinary achievement that exceed most others in the state. And, it’s a system that’s improving, according to state’s 2006 high school assessment test scores.

The tests measure the percentage of students who score “satisfactory” in three subjects – algebra, biology, and government. As it has for at least a decade, the city school system again ranks last or next to last statewide for overall scores. However, city students in 2006 achieved raw score increases that exceeded the state average in all three subjects. In biology and algebra they scored the 2nd and 7th biggest increases statewide.

Baltimore city’s public school system also has:

• One of only four schools in Maryland to score more than 90 percent in all three test subjects
• And four of 36 schools in the state to score 90 percent in at least one subject

Then there’s the ultimate irony. On the toughest test subject – algebra – four of the Top 10 scores in the Baltimore region were achieved by Baltimore City high schools – the most among the region’s jurisdictions.

Admittedly, test scores also identify extremely low-achieving high schools in the city. But one has to wonder, if Baltimore City’s school system is so bad, how is it able to produce such high-achieving schools?

My point is: over the past year, amid the prevailing political turbulence, educators and students in city public schools managed to produce undisputed examples of excellence and measurable progress in raising academic achievement.

That’s food for thought and something to build upon after the election-year rhetoric fades away in November.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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