Dear Mr. Smilko:
The Aegis reported recently that you made the statement that “the dropout rate is decreasing”. In fact, the dropout rate for the Harford County Public Schools for 2007 is the second highest dropout rate out of the past five years. The rates in 2003, 2004, and 2005 were all lower than the rate for 2007. The trend for the dropout rate over the past 8 years does not indicate a consistent, year to year decline.
Please consider the graduation rate as a more appropriate measure of school system success. The graduation rate for 2007 is the third highest in the past decade and started showing sustained improvement in 2003.
A disappointing fact about both the dropout rate and the graduation rate is that they are worse for special education students, for students who qualify for free and reduced meals, and for African American and Hispanic students than for students who are not in those categories. In fact, the dropout rate has been two to three times higher for special education students and poor students than for regular education students. Typically about 3 out of 4 of these students graduate, compared to nearly 90% of other students.
The Board of Education heard a report recently about the number of failing grades earned by students in the third quarter this year compared with last year. While there was an impressive reduction in the total number of failing grades from 2007 to 2008, the difference between 2006 and 2008 was much less dramatic. This difference was not explained in the exhibit made available to the public.
Nonetheless, one-third of our public high school students failed at least one course in the third quarter this year. This seems to me to be an unacceptable level of failure. The data raise more questions than they answer. For example:
Is this trend the same in all high schools? What subjects are students failing most often? Are the failures related to subjects in which students must take High School Assessments? What is the pattern related to grades other than failing grades? Has this information changed over the past several years?
These questions demonstrate the value of collecting data that is available through the school system’s database. When board members and the public can see the trends in student achievement over several years, it is possible to describe and agree on the areas of success and on the areas of need. Unfortunately, the Board, the Superintendent, and her staff seem to be highly resistant to collecting such data and to making it available to the public.
In the same meeting where you referenced the dropout rate incorrectly, you stated that my previous comments regarding the high school reform program were “obstructionist”. In an effort intended to be more supportive, I want to offer to the Board once again my help in collecting and assembling data to allow Board members and the public to track changes in the progress of high school students.
William M. Ekey
– Mr. John Smilko
Board of Education of Harford County
102 South Hickory Avenue
Bel Air, MD 21014
– Members of the Board of Education