Equity Report Shows Significant Gaps in Baltimore County Student Achievement

More than half of Baltimore County public school students, many of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged, showed “significantly lower” rates of achieving benchmarks in reading and math than their peers in the district, and some groups of students have experienced disproportionate suspension rates, according to an equity report presented to the school board this week.

The 2021-2022 Equity Measures Report for Baltimore County Schools found achievement gaps in elementary, middle, and high schools for Native American, Black/African American students, Hispanic/Latino students, students eligible for free and discounted meal services, English language learners and special education students.

According to data from the Maryland State Department of Education, Native American, Black/African American, and Hispanic/Latino students made up 54.4 percent of the county’s students that year. Meanwhile, more than 80% of teachers and 77% of principals in the county school system were white.

After the school system was cited in 2018 by the state Department of Education for disproportionately disciplining special education and black students, the school board created an equity committee to review these issues and the associated achievement gaps. However, the committee did not hold its first meeting until June 2020.

The committee’s new report for 2021-22, presented on Tuesday, found that such disparities persist for these groups of students, as well as students receiving free and reduced lunch.

Black elementary students had a suspension rate 1.9 percentage points higher than their peers. That gap grew to 10.8 and 6.9 percentage points in middle school and high school, respectively.

Mary McComas, the school system’s director of studies, said progress was being made at all levels, but “we fully recognize that our work is not yet complete”.

English learners had the highest achievement gaps compared to other groups covered in the report. English learners’ pass rates on benchmark levels of standardized reading and math tests – the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP tests – were 24 to 35.6 percentage points lower than their primary school peers and college. In high school, the gap widened to 46.5 percentage points for the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing exam.

Across all racial or ethnic groups, black students have the highest achievement gaps, with the exception of kindergarten readiness. For elementary math MAP, black students’ rate is 21.5 percentage points lower than that of their peers; the gap in MAP math in middle school was 20.3 percentage points.

Many of the gaps listed have narrowed somewhat since October 2020, but the gaps have widened primarily for Hispanic/Latino students. The gap for this ethnic group widened in the elementary MAP Math and Reading, middle school MAP Reading, and SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing exam.

“These results confirm the existence of persistent and predictable patterns of unequal and inequitable educational outcomes,” the report states. “When examining the measures included, the groups of students, schools and school systems included, the shortcomings identified may vary in degree or severity, but they remain consistent across various contexts. In other words, without exception, these inequitable student outcomes do not occur in isolation, but persist over time.”

The report also compared data from Baltimore County schools with those from Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George counties. The comparisons showed Baltimore County had the second-highest four-year graduation rate for black and Latino students, according to 2020-21 data.

Erin Hager, a member of the Baltimore County school board and vice chair of the equity committee, said at the meeting that she was grateful to the school system and committee chair Makeda Scott for returning the transparent metrics, which will help guide decision-making. Board member Moalie Jose said this data should be shared automatically quarterly.

Scott asked what the system is doing to address these inequities and growing achievement gaps.

Superintendent Darryl L. Williams said each school has a student support team and interventions can be applied on a continuum.

“In terms of the system, these are high-level data points,” he said. “We are looking at each school for the kinds of support they might need. How do we personalize this support? … We look at the 176 schools, then [prioritizing] what kind of support may be needed.

McComas, the director of studies, discussed various resources, including student staff workers and school attendance teams. Doug Handy, who oversees the school system’s equity and cultural competence department, said interventions such as professional development would help educators.

It helps that the system now has timely data, Williams said. But Kevin Connelly, executive director of the school system’s research, accountability and evaluation department, said he found similar data sets dating back to 2004.

“The need for continued progress is urgent,” Handy said.

James C. Tibbs