Montgomery dominates scholarship competition

September 13, 1990|By Will Englund

Montgomery County has once again dominated the National Merit Scholarship competition in Maryland, while most Baltimore-area school systems lagged far behind.

Of the major counties in Maryland, Montgomery has the most

See MERIT, wealth per pupil, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education. Yet Baltimore County, which ranks just behind Montgomery, had far fewer semifinalists.

George A. Gabriel, director of education research for Baltimore County, said he believes that families in the Washington suburbs are more attuned to the idea of competing in school and doing well in order to get ahead. Parents who work at Washington-area universities, at the National Institutes of Health, in the government, at the headquarters of national organizations expect their children to go to the best colleges, he said.

Baltimore County, by contrast, is more "laid back."

"Kids do well," he said, "but they don't go the extra mile to do really well. Our students should be doing better on these tests."

He also pointed out that Montgomery County has specific course work designed to prepare high school students for the PSAT.

The National Merit competition concerns the very top students in a school system, and reveals little about the achievement of the majority of youngsters. Earlier this week, a study commissioned by Montgomery faulted the school system for ineffectively teaching black, Hispanic and Asian students, who now make up one-third of the enrollment.

Schools that emphasize the National Merit competition do well on it. For years, both Hunter College High School and Stuyvesant High School in New York have placed a premium on the tests, and have had dozens of semifinalists. This year they rank second and third in the country.

To do well on the test, said Mr. Porter of Montgomery County, "you have to have a lot of support from your principal, your guidance counselor, your teachers. Without everyone in the school pulling for you, you really can't do it."

Five students in Baltimore were semifinalists -- four from City College and one from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. That is similar to the city's mark in previous years and also to that of other major cities of about the same size this year -- although comparing across state lines is misleading, because every state has a quota of semifinalists and therefore the qualifying mark on the PSAT varies from state to state.

The semifinalists, said Joseph Antenson, the principal of City College, "are students who know their material very well, and take tests well. I'm thrilled to be where we are. It would be great to have more."

"It's very clear to me," he said, "that it's not culture-fair to minorities."

He said black and white students who have had identical school careers can end up with vastly different test scores.

"It's a very frustrating thing," he said.

* Merit standings

This chart shows percent of state's public school students b jurisdiction and percent of National Merit semifinalists

District**************% of state****%of state

**********************enrollment** semifinalists

Arundel********************9.2**********6.2

Baltimore*****************15.4**********1.9

Baltimore Co.*************12.0*********11.7

Carroll********************3.0**********0.8

Harford********************4.3**********2.7

Howard*********************4.1*********12.1

Montgomery****************14.3*********44.7

Pr. George's**************15.3**********7.8

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