WESTMINSTER - Of the 336 Maryland high school students competing as semifinalists in the 1991 National Merit Scholarship competition, only two are from Carroll County public schools.
While that is two more Carroll students than in 1990, the proportion of county students eligible for the yearly competition is lower than counties with comparable student populations.
With 3 percent of the state public school students, Carroll has just 0.6 percent of the semifinalists. The two students are Susan M. Baker and Chad J. Epler, who attend Libertyville High School.
Harford and Howard counties, which have slightly higher student populations than Carroll, have 2.7 percent and 12.1 percent of the state semifinalists, respectively.
"Their student populations are roughly the same as ours," said Edwin L.
Davis, Carroll's director of pupil services/special programs. "But a few numbers one way or another are going to skew those percentages. When you're talking about a total of a few kids, it's hard to make a lot of conclusions."
The very top students in a school system compete in the National Merit Scholarship competition, which measures a student's ability to do well in college by testing verbal and mathematical aptitude skills.
Davis said it is well to bear in mind that the semifinalists won the honor by scoring in the highest half of 1 percent of all the juniors statewide taking the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. There are 15,000 semifinalists nationwide competing for $25 million in college scholarships.
He said the PSAT does not measure a school system's curriculum and only serves as one barometer of a student's ability to succeed in college.
"It's difficult to read too much into one piece of data," Davis said.
"Conclusions about the competition may differ."
Even so, school officials are always concerned about test scores and want Carroll students to be among the best in the state.
"Those students who do qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition have a lot on the ball," said Brian L. Lockard, Carroll's assistant superintendent of instruction. "These are very bright youngsters who are very studious and make the most of their education."
Lockard said a school district likes to think it helped develop a student's abilities, but he said success lies with the student.
"We are happy when we have youngsters who qualify," Lockard said. "We hope the school system has provided the opportunity for students to use their abilities to the maximum and to achieve at a maximum level."
The number of semifinalists in Carroll County has fluctuated over the years. In 1989, for example, there were five semifinalists in the county.
The year before, there were just two.
Davis said the fluctuation is consistent with the relatively small sample of Carroll students in the competition. He said if their numbers were larger, the results would be more consistent.
He said Carroll has had semifinalists and finalists since the competition began decades ago. The students have come from different high schools and from all over the county.
"Who they are and what school they go to is a matter of chance," Davis said. "We'd always like to be able to say our kids do better than anybody else."
Carroll students preparing for the PSAT receive both academic and guidance assistance from the school system.
The district, for example, offers a semester-long course to help students prepare for the test. In addition, some teachers incorporate aspects of the test in their classes to sharpen student aptitude skills.
"We do counsel students into the right kind of course work," Lockard said. "We encourage them to take the right kind of rigor they're capable of handling in their classes."
While Carroll, and even Harford and Howard counties, pale in comparison with Montgomery County, which has 44.7 percent of the state's semifinalists, Davis, like other educators, said the influence of goal-oriented parents and peers in the Washington suburb plays an important role in the success there.
However, he said that shouldn't downplay the role of parents and others in the Carroll school system. Typically, Carroll County students have fared better than their state counterparts on tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but the latest test results have given Carroll educators cause for some concern. He noted educators are still reviewing the data from the most recent SAT scores for the county, which dropped 29 points from 1989.
"We still don't have any conclusions," Davis said. "We're looking at the data and trying to make sense of it. If there's something we should be doing differently, we should do it."