State's school systems prove slow to make grade

November 13, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh NvB

If Maryland's schools are going to meet state standards designed to improve student performance, they're going to have to make dramatic gains in the next few years.

That's the bottom line in the second annual state "report card," officially released yesterday by the State Department of Education.

The 1991 Maryland School Performance Program Report shows that half of the 24 school systems failed to make the grade in math. Six school systems fell short in reading. All but five fell short in writing. Those figures were for the performance of ninth-graders taking the Maryland Functional Tests for the first time. The functional tests, in place since the early 1980s, provide the only achievement data in the report card.

"Overall, we would have to say our standards have not been met,"State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said.

By 11th grade, when many students are repeating the test, eight school systems still could not meet the state standard for reading, writing or math. The eight are Baltimore City and Charles, Caroline, Garrett, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Somerset and Talbot counties.

Though school systems have made progress since last year in reading, math, dropout prevention and secondary attendance, most are still struggling to meet basic standards measuring minimum skills, even as the state plans to introduce tougher standards measuring far more complex skills.

Dr. Grasmick stressed that the report card constitutes only the second "marking period."

School systems have until 1995 to meet standards set for last year'sreport card, and until 1996 to meet five new standards added this year.

"My hope is that we would see much greater acceleration of progress during the next three years," she said.

For schools that do not progress, the state will consider imposing sanctions that would apply in 1995 at the earliest. They could range from a state takeover to allowing private or non-profit agencies to run a school, Dr. Grasmick said.

The Maryland Board of Education will discuss the issue this spring, said board President Robert C. Embry Jr.

Though details of such sanctions have not been established, schools would probably have three years to demonstrate progress, starting in 1992, Mr. Embry said. That's the first year the report card will include figures from new and tougher state tests.

"I think it can't be stressed too strongly that the measures you see here are very minimal," Mr. Embry said. "They are not what you need for an educated society."

The functional tests are requirements for graduation, but are designed to measure skills students should have completed by the end of eighth grade. Robert Gabrys, head of the Maryland School Performance Office, said students need to meet the minimum standards by the end of eighth grade so they can concentrate on higher level skills.

"High school is not about minimum competencies," he said.

State officials said the pace of progress among schools should pick up as the schools concentrate on meeting the standards.

C7 Some school systems have farther to go than others.

Howard County

The county school system fell short of state standards in only one area -- secondary attendance. Superintendent Michael E. Hickey was optimistic about that area. "We're within a percentage point of meeting that standard, and I feel we're going to meet it next year," he said.

Harford County

Superintendent Ray R. Keech thinks Harford will meet all standards before 1995. Harford failed to meet minimum standards for dropout rates, attendance in grades seven through 12, and citizenship. "In the areas where we don't reach the standards, quite frankly, we're so close it doesn't look like it's going to be a problem," he said.

Carroll County

Here, the emphasis is going to be on writing. Carroll failed to meet state standards in writing and secondary attendance. The passing rate on writing dropped from 95.7 percent last year to 85.3 percent this year. Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said teachers will be placing greater emphasis on the mechanics of writing and explanatory writing.

Anne Arundel

The county was one of six jurisdictions that failed more categories than they passed.

"These are 1995 standards," Superintendent Larry L. Lorton said. "We still have three years to get there. While we're not where we want to be, we're improving in the right direction."

Highlights

Highlights of the 1991 Maryland School Performance Program report, the second annual state "report card":

IMPROVEMENTS:

* READING* -- 18 of 24 school systems met or surpassed standards. Half did so last year.

* MATH* -- 12 of 24 school systems made the grade, up from four last year. Most made big gains.

* SECONDARY ATTENDANCE -- Three of 24 school systems made the grade. Only one did so last year.

* DROPOUTS -- eight of 24 made the grade, up from four last

year. Most made big gains.

DECLINES:

* WRITING* -- five of 24 school systems made the grade, down from 15 last year. Most dropped dramatically.

* CITIZENSHIP* -- four of 24 school systems made the grade, down from five of 23 last year.

EXTREMES:

* Frederick and Howard counties met or exceeded all but one standard.

* Baltimore met only one standard; Charles County met only four.

* Kent, Cecil, Queen Anne's and Baltimore counties were rated excellent in seven categories.

* Only Baltimore received no excellent ratings.

* -- Results represent students taking the Maryland Functional Tests for the first time, in ninth or 10th grade.

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