Black students' progress lagging Baltimore County group's report finds few advances.

October 11, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Progress toward Baltimore County's goal of improving the achievement of black students is slow in places and slipping in others, according to a new report.

A report presented last night to the county school board indicated slight improvements for black students in some test scores. But blacks continued to be suspended from school in higher proportion to their numbers and to be under-represented in courses for fast learners.

"This is awful," said Dunbar Brooks, who was one of several school board members who commented on the report.

"I'm not saying the system isn't trying," because it has an array of programs to boost minority achievement, Brooks said. "But we have a long, long way to go."

The report was prepared by the Minority Education Coordinating Council, a group of school officials, parents and community leaders that was formed last February to monitor the county's progress toward its stated goal of raising the achievement of minority students.

Many of the findings, from test scores to discipline, were measured against the proportion of each ethnic group in the student population of the county schools.

The discussion last night focused almost exclusively on the achievement of black students, who account for 18 percent of the student population, by far the largest minority group in county schools. Asians are next, at 3 percent, followed by Hispanics at 1 percent and American Indians at less than 1 percent.

Whites are 78 percent of the student population.

In scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, black students gained, but continued to lag behind other groups. Two years ago, the combined mean of both math and verbal Scholastic Achievement Test scores was 760 for blacks. Last year, it rose to 778.

Asians did best overall, with combined scores of 972 and 979 in those two years. White students' scores dropped from 958 to 955.

A third of black seniors met minimum standards -- a variety of course requirements and combined SAT scores of 1,000 or better -- for admission to the University of Maryland. Eighty percent of Asians reached that standard, as did 53 percent of whites.

In programs for students with learning difficulties, blacks were over-represented. They accounted for 22 percent of the enrollment in special education programs. But black participation was 9 percent in the honors program and ranged from 2 percent to 5 percent in high school gifted and talented courses.

At the same time, black students are receiving an outsized share of school discipline. As the number of suspensions from school has dropped by about 1,500 over the previous three years to 7,000, black students' share of those suspensions has risen from 29 percent to 33 percent. The rate of black suspensions tended to increase in sections of the county where black enrollment was highest.

The school system has tried to add more minorities to the school staff. Minorities represented 15 percent of the new hires for this school year, a 4 percent increase over last year. But school officials said the pool of available candidates was small and the competition fierce among school districts to hire them.

Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel cited small signs of progress in the report and said it could be better and emphasized the continuing priority of improving achievement.

But James R. Pennington, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was outraged there wasn't more outrage about the findings in the report.

Pennington, who has often criticized the school system as being laggard in educating minority students, said the board should have a five-year schedule for meeting certain goals, with the superintendent's salary dependent on achieving them.

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