Howard County schools ranked at the top of Maryland's 24-district class in "report cards" issued Tuesday, falling short of state standards only in the percentage of middle and high school students who are in class each day.
"We feel very good about the systemwide report in particular," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, citing excellent ratings in six of the 13 categories measured by the Maryland SchoolPerformance Program. "We have made considerable progress on (attendance). We're within a percentage point of meeting that standard and I feel we're going to meet it next year."
Centennial High School received the top grades among the eight high schools in the county, with 10 excellents and one satisfactory, which was in attendance. Three high schools failed only the attendance category, while four failed more than one category. Howard High School had the largest number of standards not met, five.
Seven middle schools passed all the state categories, two failed to meet state standards for the number of students passing Maryland functional tests and two fell short in more than one category. Mayfield Woods Middle School was excluded because it opened this fall.
All 29 elementary schools won satisfactory or excellent ratings in the two categories measured, promotion rates and attendance percentages. Pointers Run Elementary was excluded because it opened this fall.
Middle and high school attendance was also the lone category in which Howard schools failed to earn satisfactory or excellent ratings in the first MSPP "report cards," issued in November 1990. The school system received one excellent and six satisfactory ratings in the eight categories measured in the initial report.
School principals tried various tactics to bring up attendance this year. Students with perfect attendance were rewarded with ice cream sundaes; parents of absent students got daily calls from volunteers enlisted by the principals.
The efforts brought secondary school attendance from 93 percent in 1989-1990 to 93.3 percent last year, short of the 94 percent set by the state Boardof Education as satisfactory.
David A. Bruzga, who led the effortthat produced an attendance increase from 91.8 to 93.1 percent at Hammond High last year, pointed out that a single percentage point is significant.
In a school of 1,000 students, 1 percentage point is 1,800 attendance days, or the equivalent of 180 students being in school 10 additional days, said Bruzga, now principal of Oakland Mills High.
Attendance at Hammond last year "was the highest in the school's history," Bruzga said.
Middle schools get their test grades from the results of Maryland functional reading, mathematics and writingtests taken by high school freshmen. Ninth-graders take the math andreading tests in October, the writing test in the spring semester.
"These tests are a better measure of what went on in middle school than in high school," said Howard High Principal Eugene L. Streagle. The Howard High freshmen of 1990-1991 won an excellent rating on the reading test, but failed to meet state standards for the numbers passing math, writing and the citizenship test, which is first taken in the seventh grade.
By 11th grade, Howard High students passed the functional tests in sufficient numbers to earn excellent or satisfactory ratings in all categories.
"I'm proud of our kids. We work realhard and we just missed (satisfactory ratings)," Streagle said. The difference between an unsatisfactory 78 percent of the ninth-graders passing the math test and an 80 percent satisfactory rating is four students failing the test, he said.
At Ellicott Mills Middle School, whose students go on to Howard High, Principal James DeGeorge said results of basic skills tests given to eighth-graders last year show rising scores that he expects to see reflected in next year's MSPP report card.
"I'm optimistic that we're going to see satisfactory and moving toward excellent," he said. DeGeorge started a program to emphasize math across the curriculum. If the sixth-grade math teacher is teaching decimals, for example, the science teacher will show students how to translate decimals to a time line.
Ellicott Mills teachers are also giving each student daily work on writing skills this year.
The MSPP calculated the student attainment category on the percentages of graduating seniors who can meet University of Maryland system entrance requirements or have finished approved occupational program requirements.
The results apparently leave many students graduating without the ability to do either, but local school officials say that's misleading.
At Centennial High School, for example, 78.8percent of the 1990-1991 graduates met either of the categories, butPrincipal Sylvia S. Pattillo pointed out that 94 percent of Centennial's graduates go on to post-high school education.