Keech Says School Report Card Is Good News, But Old News

November 25, 1990|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Harford school Superintendent Ray R. Keech says the "report card" Harford's public education system got from the state last week was so strong he plans to use it this year to push for more county money for teaching materials and teachers.

But almost in the same breath, Keech criticized the report card, saying the statistics the state gathered for the report are outdated.

"There's no way the first report card can begin to rate whether a system is good or bad," he said. "And you'll probably be disappointed that what you receive is old news. Some of these scores represent scores on last year's functional tests."

Keech said the functional tests were given four weeks after school opened. The four tests assess students' basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics and their knowledge of citizenship. Students must pass the tests to graduate.

"The report card only shows the percent of ninth-graders who passed all four tests the first time through," said Keech. "And it doesn't tell what we do to help the students if they couldn't pass all four tests the first time. No student in Harford County has been denied a diploma because they couldn't pass all four tests (by graduation)."

Keech also compared schools' efforts to meet the new performance requirements to "constructing an airplane in flight" because some requirements, such as those for the new achievement tests to be given next year, have not yet been spelled out.

The state Board of Education last week released report cards for all 24 school districts, including Baltimore City. The report cards are part of the new Maryland School Performance program, an effort by state educators to improve teaching methods and public school students' test scores.

Results of the new achievement test -- known as the criterion reference test -- will be incorporated in future school system report cards.

On the report card, Harford's schools fared better than the statewide average in the eight categories rated by the state Board of Education.

Areas where Harford met or exceeded the state's minimum expectations:

* Percent of ninth-graders passing the reading test on the first try -- 96.6 percent. The state goal is 95 percent.

* Percent of ninth-graders passing the writing test on the first try -- 94.5 percent. The state goal is 90 percent.

* Attendance in grades one through six -- 95.2 percent. The state goal is 94 percent.

* Number of elementary students advanced to the next grade -- 98.56 percent. The state goal is 96 percent.

But Harford fell short in the new state goals in the remaining four categories that were evaluated by the state Board of Education. Areas where the county fell short: * Percent of ninth-graders passing the mathematics test on the first try -- 77.5 percent. The state goal was 80 percent.

* Percent of ninth-graders passing the citizenship test on the first try -- 81.2 percent. The state goal was 85 percent.

* Attendance in grades seven through 12 -- 93.2 percent. The state goal was 94 percent.

* High school dropout rate -- 4 percent. The state goal was 3 percent.

Despite the shortfall in those areas, Harford fared better overall in the report than many other school districts. For example, Anne Arundel County schools met the minimum state standards in two of the eight categories. Baltimore City's school system failed to meet the standards in every category.

Keech said Harford's shortfalls could be overcome. He said he was particularly disturbed by one figure in the report which showed Harford spends less money on education for each student than the state average. In the 1989-1990 school year, Harford spent $4,191 per student. The state average is $5,054. The county ranks 21 out of 24 in per pupil spending.

"I think this sends a clear message that money is not the only criteria to develop a good school," said Keech. "But the report does tell us that we have $863 less per kid to spend than the state average."

If Harford is to meet the new performance standards by 1995 -- the target year set by state educators -- Keech said the county will face new expenses such as retraining teachers in new teaching methods and other system-wide changes.

The superintendent said he hoped the report card would help him present a strong case to the county executive and County Council for more money in the school budget next spring.

"We spend less than average, but our students never get as low as the average," said Keech. "That's a pretty good deal. More money would increase our potential to do a good job. Yes, I am saying we don't have enough money, but I never said we had to have the most money, although I wouldn't turn it down."

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