Not enough county high school students are passing functional tests in reading, writing, math and citizenship on their first try, a statereport card issued yesterday showed.
Although the scores showed improvement over last year, they failed to meet standards set by the Maryland School Performance Program.
"These are 1995 standards," School Superintendent Larry L. Lortonsaid. "We still have three years to get there. While we're not wherewe want to be, we're improving in the right direction."
Among area school systems, Anne Arundel fared much better than Baltimore City and came out roughly on a par with Prince George's County, while lagging behind Howard and Baltimore counties.
This year, for the firsttime, each of the county's 119 schools were evaluated on test scores, attendance, dropout rates and other factors. High school evaluations, for instance, included information on the number of students who either would be eligible to attend the University of Maryland or able to meet requirements for an approved occupational training program.
At the high school level, two sets of test results were reported, one for students taking the test for the first time, another for 11th-graders. Students must pass all four functional tests to graduate. Student performance on the test was rated either excellent, satisfactory or not meeting state standards.
Of students taking the tests forthe first time, only 94.1 percent passed the reading exam (state standard, 95 percent), 75.4 the math exam (80 percent), 79.9 percent thewriting exam (90 percent) and 69.8 percent the citizenship exam (85 percent).
By comparison, Baltimore County met the state standards for first-time takers in both reading and math, while Howard County met all four standards. Prince George's County met the standard in writing. Baltimore City failed to meet any of the state standards for first-time takers; among 11th-graders, only its passing rate for the reading test was judged satisfactory.
The information also was broken down according to race and sex for each school's test, attendance and dropout rate.
"That's one of the great dangers," Lorton said. "It is very, very difficult to compare schools. It tends to cause overreaction. There are so many variables. A gross generalization is extremely unfair."
The 224-page document was distributed to principalsyesterday, but parents will have to do their homework to gain accessto the entire document. The state requires only that each school have the comparative score card. As a cost-saving measure, school officials opted to limit distribution of packets containing the informationfor all schools.
The county spent $2,000 distributing the report.
Copies of the report will be available at county libraries. Principals will be asked to distribute their schools' results either through newsletters or at Parent-Teacher Association meetings.
On the high school level, 11th-graders rated excellent in reading, with 99.7 percent passing by the end of their junior year. They rated satisfactory in math (98.3 percent) and writing (97.8 percent), but did not meet state standards in citizenship (96.1 percent, with a state standard of 97 percent).
The high school dropout rate of 3.6 percent did not meet state standards of 3.0 percent. But the figure represented an improvement over last year's 5.9 figure.
"We've had growth in scores even though the dropout rate has been cut in half," Lorton said."In some cases, growth would be reflected in seeing students who aren't doing well out of the picture. But we've seen growth and have also kept more kids in school. That's good news."
School officials attributed some of the gains noted in this year's report card to crackdowns on school policies. Principals have been asked to enforce a stricter attendance policy, reducing the number of permissible absences from 15 per semester to 12 (six per marking period).
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte attributed a nearly 50 percent improvement in the dropout rate to programs like Maryland's Tomorrow, which identifies and supports students at risk of failing in school.
Ironically, money for that program, along with mini-grants to aid schools that fared poorly on the report card, has been cut. Theschool system has lost more than $10 million in budget cuts, and teachers face four-day furloughs and no pay raise.
"We continue to ask our staff to do their best, but the lack of pay increments certainly impacts on the spirit and ability to deliver," Wilhoyte said.
School officials admit a concern about public comparisons between schools once the information is released. Some fear it is the first step toward parents obtaining the right to choose their schools.
"Choiceis not the solution or the problem," Lorton said yesterday. "Our task is to meet the needs of every student."
Last year, Anne Arundel County fared poorly, ranking excellent only in school elementary promotion rates and satisfactory in elementary attendance.