Baltimore's first comprehensive school-by-school report card is as painful as predicted, painting a picture of a money-starved school system where achievement is concentrated in pockets and absenteeism is epidemic.
Though the city improved in all areas of the report card except writing, citizenship and secondary school attendance, it still lags so far behind other school systems as to exist in a category all its own.
Baltimore made the grade on only one of 13 standards measured in this year's state report card, the percentage of city students passing the functional reading test by the 11th grade. The test measures eighth-grade skills and is first given in the ninth grade.
In reading -- which is the city's strong point -- 86.1 percent of students taking the functional reading test for the first time passed, compared with a statewide rate of 94.8.
The state deadline for meeting the standards set last year is 1995.
Numbers for individual schools, released for the first time this year, showed students achieving far below their peers in the citywide "academic" high schools.
The proportion of students missing more than four weeks ofschool reached 46.1 percent at one elementary school and hovered around 70 percent at several middle and high schools.
"It's outrageous, and I don't understand why parents allow it," said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
She said teachers, struggling with no supplies and overcrowded classes, are not to blame.
Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the state Board of Education, said he was concerned about the city's scores and that the state might have to intervene if the schools don't improve.
"There's a new superintendent, a new team," Mr. Embry said. "I'm very impressed, I must say, with some of the actions I'm seeing this new team take. But we can't continue to say 'Give the new people a chance' every couple of years. The children are suffering."
The report card shows a school system under stress. Baltimore spends $4,614 per student, compared with $6,007 in Baltimore County. That is further reduced by the high proportion of special education students needing more expensive programs -- 17,000 of the school system's 108,000 students are in special education. And 67,000 students live in poverty.
New school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he won't make excuses for the schools' poor performance.
"Instead, we will use the report as a blueprint for reshaping and revitalizing education in Baltimore," he said.
Dr. Amprey did not mention the numbers documenting the schools' performance yesterday. He said that he wants to focus on the positive, and he had several principals talk about what they are doing in their schools.
The superintendent promised "significant progress" in all areas of the report card within five years but didn't set a target date for meeting his goal of a satisfactory rating in all areas.
"I have a tendency when I'm in a race not to look at the person that's running behind me and not to look at the person that's running ahead of me, just to run as fast as I can," he said, sitting next to 10-year-old Shanae Bennett, a student from Gardenville Elementary.
"For now, we're going to ignore that 1995 [deadline] and start to dig in and make a difference for the Shanae Bennetts out there," the superintendent said.
The report card documents a school system where performance is polarized. Citywide high schools such as Baltimore Polytechnic, City College and Western High School made the grade in most categories measured by the report card, including test scores. Only three other high schools met state minimum standards in reading, writing or math for students taking the tests for the first time.
But 15 high schools made the grade in one of the three areas for 11th-graders, many of whom are repeating the tests.
Highlights of the 1991 Maryland School Performance Program
report, the second annual state "report card":
* Failed in all but one of the 13 categories.
* Made progress in all but three categories.
* Made big gains in reducing the dropout rate.
Parents and others interested in the results of the Maryland report card can get copies of the complete school-by-school reports, which include more detailed information for every school, from local school systems. Copies are to be available at individual schools by Dec. 1. The statewide report containing more detailed information for the 24 localities is available from the State Department of Education.