Confidence spurs Pikesville success

A LOOK AT WHAT MAKES SCHOOLS TICK

November 14, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

In a table showing performance of Baltimore's elementary schools in yesterday's editions of The Sun, the heading showing the "Satisfactory" level of attendence according to State Board of Education standards was incorrect. The satisfactory attendence level should have been 94 percent.

* The Sun regrets the error.

With the fervor of a football coach, Pikesville High School English teacher Judy Koontz prepared a freshman class yesterday for the Maryland Functional writing test.

"What's our success rate?" she asked. "We are the best!" they responded. "How do we get to be the best?" she demanded. "Practice!" they said. "Why don't you have to worry?" she queried. "Because I'm prepared!" they answered.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Pikesville High School exceeded state standards for reading, math, science and citizenship tests on the 1991 Maryland School Performance Report, the annual state report card released Tuesday.

"It's 80 percent letting them know they can do it," Mrs. Koontz said. "They have to be told they can do it." Her coaching yesterday was aimed at the state writing test her freshmen will take in January.

Teachers throughout the Baltimore County school prepare students for the state tests by convincing them that they can succeed and reinforcing the skills the tests measure.

Their efforts have paid off.

"Pikesville is an exemplary school that has consistently done well," said George T. Gabriel, the county schools' director of research and evaluation.

But Pikesville has done well in every category except attendance, where it fell short of the state standard, with 24 percent of students absent 20 days or more.

Principal David G. King said the absentee rate is high because more than 90 percent of the school's 930 students are Jewish and most of them do not attend school on Jewish holidays. On some holidays, only 30 to 40 students are in school, he said.

About 20 years ago, the school system decided to allow Pikesville teachers to do only review work and not to give tests on Jewish holidays because so many students were absent, Mr. King said.

Besides Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, observed by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, most Pikesville students are absent on eight other Jewish holidays.

"My opinion is that some are in synagogue, but most are not," Mr. King said. "I wish they were in school, but I'm not going to get into an argument over who is the most religious and who is not."

"I am shocked to learn that hundreds and hundreds of kids are staying home on all those holidays," said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of the orthodox Beth Tfiloh synagogue in Pikesville. "I don't know where those kids are going, but they are not here. They are playing hooky from school and synagogue," he said.

Daniel Turkeltaub, a 17-year-old senior, estimates that half his classmates who are absent on Jewish holidays attend services. "If they are religious and want to go to synagogue, they should be allowed to. But if they don't, they should be in school," he said.

Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel said students should be allowed to honor religious holidays, but parents should monitor how they use the time.

He said county school administrators are asking state education officials not to count absences for religious holidays in tabulating school attendance ratings.

Teri Ashman, president of the school PTA, said the practice of not attending school on religious holidays is self-perpetuating. The students who do not celebrate the holidays don't go to school because they know almost no one else will be there, she said.

She added that the absences have not hurt students' academic performance.

The state tests and other measures bear her out. About 96 percent of the school's students go on to college. Pikesville students' average score on the most recent Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance examination, is 1002, compared with 927 countywide and 896 nationwide.

Mrs. Ashman attributed Pikesville's academic success to strong parental involvement. Mr. King agreed.

"Education is prized greatly in this community," he said of the middle- and upper-middle class community of single-family homes that surrounds the school.

"The children come from homes where there are books . . . There is a climate for learning."

Pikesville students who need extra help get it, Mr. King said.

"We try to immediately identify the students who have deficits andwork with them right away," he said. "We don't want anyone to fall through the cracks."

Although Pikesville's approach has been successful, some students question it.

"Everything on the test you should know anyway," said Alix Cramer, 14. He said practice for the reading tests, which were taken on Oct. 14, began last year.

But David Gratz, 14, said "It's kind of good that they have us prepare for the tests."

Pikesville High School

Student performance

' School year 1990 - 1991

FUNCTIONAL TESTS

First time.. .. .. .. .. ..Pass % needed.. .. .. .. 1991

test-takers.. .. .. .. .. .to rate excellent.. .. .Percent

Reading.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..97.. .. .. .. .. .. 100.0

Mathematics.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .90.. .. .. .. .. .. .95.1

Writing.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..96.. .. .. .. .. .. .98.2

Citizenship.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .92.. .. .. .. .. .. .98.7

STUDENT PARTICIPATION

Attendance (yearly)

Grades 9-12.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .96.. .. .. .. .. .. .98.7

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