Report card gives schools credit for trying harder Improved, yes, but still short of goals Test results outline sharp disparities

November 03, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

Maryland schools have made clear progress in meeting new state achievement standards, but gains fall far short of goals, and dramatic gaps separate the best and worst performing systems, according to the second annual report card on the state's schools.

The 1991 report shows that statewide, Maryland public school performance meets five of 13 standards. Last year, when the first so-called report card was issued, statewide performance measured up in only two of the eight categories that were gauged for that report.

The state hopes to meet its sweeping new standards by 1995.

The state's 24 school systems by and large failed to make the grade in the same problem areas identified last year: secondary attendance, dropout rates, writing, math and citizenship. Most systems made clear gains in dropout prevention and performance in math, but it wasn't enough to meet the standards.

Most systems made the grade in reading, elementary school promotion rates and elementary school attendance. But in most systems, writing performance dropped significantly.

The report, officially the 1991 Maryland School Performance Program Report, was embargoed for public release until Nov. 12 but was made available to school administrators in the last few weeks. State school officials declined to comment on the report, citing the embargo.

The report underscored the polarization of performance in the public schools.

At one end of the spectrum were Frederick and Howard counties, which either met or exceeded all but one standard -- the attendance rate of middle and high school students. At the other end of the spectrum, Baltimore City met only one standard -- performance by 11th-graders on a functional reading test.

Toward the high end were Carroll County, which failed in only two categories, and Harford and Baltimore counties, which failed in only three.

Six counties -- Anne Arundel, Garrett, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Somerset and Talbot -- failed more categories than they passed.

The report also showed:

* Attendance in the elementary grades improved in 13 of 24 school systems and stayed the same in five. The declines in the other six were all less than a percentage point.

* Secondary school attendance improved marginally in 13 of 24 systems, perceptibly in three others and stayed the same in three.

* The rate at which elementary school students were promoted to the next grade improved in 18 of 24 systems and stayed the same in two.

* Kent, Cecil, Queen Anne's and Baltimore counties each received the grade of excellent in seven categories.

* Only Baltimore City failed to make the excellent grade in any category.

Baltimore continues to exist in a category all its own -- a plight partly explained by its demographics. Its 108,000 students include 67,000 youngsters living in poverty and 17,000 students in special education. The city spends only $4,614 per student -- compared to $7,213 at the other end of the scale in Montgomery County. Baltimore County spends $6,007 per student.

But there was good news for the city. The city system made gains in all last year's categories except writing, citizenship and secondary attendance. And the dropout rate declined from 18.8 percent in last year's report to 10.3 percent.

City officials believe the actual figure for last year should be 14.6 percent -- which would narrow the gains this year though they would still represent a big improvement.

For the first time this year, the report card provides results for the functional tests both for students taking the tests for the first time -- in ninth or 10th grade -- and for students in the 11th grade who may not have passed the first time.

Students must pass the functional tests -- in reading, writing, math and citizenship -- to graduate.

In reading, writing and math, the percentage of 11th-graders passing the tests fell short of the state minimum standard in eight school systems -- Baltimore City, and Prince George's, Charles, Caroline, St. Mary's, Somerset, Talbot and Garrett counties. The tests are intended to measure minimum skills at about an eighth-grade level.

In the category of students taking the functional tests for the first time, only Cecil County met the minimum standard for pass rates writing, reading and math. The stumbling block for most systems was the writing test, though many also fell short on the citizenship test.

Those numbers are sobering because future report cards will measure school systems on new and much tougher tests. The new tests, administered for the first time last spring, are designed to measure achievement and not just minimum skills. The results of those new tests are expected early next year, but at the request of local superintendents, the tests will not become part of the official report card until 1992.

State officials plan to explain this year's report card at a news conference Nov. 12, when the report is officially released.

Commenting on the delay, Valerie V. Cloutier, principal counsel for the state Department of Education, cited an exemption in the state public records law allowing agencies to delay releasing information if it is in the public interest.

"The reason why the department is not going to discuss it now is because they made an agreement with the school systems, and they are not going to breach this agreement," Ms. Cloutier said.

The report card will also be used to evaluate school systems, and the state has said systems that do not improve may face sanctions such as a state takeover.

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