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Calvert County Public Schools students’ graduation rates remain high amid gradual curriculum changes, according to data released this week by the Maryland State Department of Education and the county school system.

To better track progress, Maryland began the cohort graduation rate two years ago, which follows a set group of students from their freshman year through their senior year, according to a release by MSDE.

For Calvert public schools, the four-year cohort graduation rate increased slightly between 2010 and 2012, from 91.66 to 91.78 percent, according to a CCPS press release. During this time, the graduation rate of students across Maryland also increased, from 81.97 to 83.57 percent, according to the MSDE. Four-year cohort data for 2013 will be available next year, after summer data is finalized, according to the MSDE.

The five-year cohort graduation rate — the rate for students completing their diploma in five years — dropped slightly from 93.56 percent in 2010 to 93.2 percent in 2012, while the five-year rate for the state increased from 84.57 to 86.32 percent.

“It is always encouraging to see our graduation rate remain high,” Nancy V. Highsmith, interim superintendent, said in the release. “The importance of a high school diploma is at an all-time high to ready our students for ever-changing post-secondary education and career options.”

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery agreed, emphasizing that a high school diploma represents the first step in gaining the requisite preparation for a student’s future.

“We need our students to be prepared for a career or college, and we continue to strengthen standards to prepare them for the future,” Lowery said in the state’s release. “We remain concerned about gaps in the graduation rate, but the trends are in the right direction. A Maryland high school diploma opens the door to a world of opportunity.”

Of the 2013 graduating class, over 95 percent passed all four tests or got a combined score of 1602 or 1208. The different scores account for students who are required to take the government assessment. In 2011, the government exam stopped being administered, but action by the General Assembly reinstated the exam last year, according to the MSDE. Less than five percent passed the HSA requirements by completing a Bridge Plan for Academic Validation project, which is an in-depth subject-specific project used as an alternative to taking the HSA test.

More than 1,300 Calvert County students earned diplomas last year, and more than 95 percent of those students met the High School Assessments requirement by passing all of the tests in algebra/data analysis, biology and English, according to the release. Fewer than 5 percent met the requirement by achieving a combined score on all of the tests or completing the alternative Bridge Plan for Academic Validation, the project-based alternative to the HSAs, according to the Calvert press release.

No Maryland student failed to receive a diploma last year solely because of failure to meet the Maryland HSAs requirement for graduation, according to the state’s release.

“Most impressive,” Highsmith said in the release, “is that our high schools continue to make progress with all student groups as the rigor continues to increase.”

That increased rigor includes new standards under Common Core and impending Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Career assessments, designed to raise expectations for what students should understand and be able to do in grades K-12 to be prepared for success in college and the workplace, according to the state education department.

Under Maryland’s recently granted flexibility regarding the federal No Child Left Behind law, all four Calvert County public high schools met all of their 2013 School Progress Index targets for all students and subgroups, according to the county’s release.

snewman@somdnews.com