Hidden amid the hoopla surrounding Carroll's third-place ranking on the Maryland schools' report card were the results of another test --the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.
For the most part, Carroll students, tested in second, third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades, performed equally well on the CTBS, which is another measure of student achievement in the state's education reform efforts.
In fact, students performed "significantly above" the national median -- 50 percentile -- and the county's own expectations, said Judith Backes, supervisor of school performance and assessment.
Students, she said, exceeded anticipated rankings in the total scores for reading, language and math in all grade levels except second.
"Our students are testing better than we expected," she said.
State school systems were required to tests students in grades three, five andeight. Carroll opted to test students in grades two and 10 as well.
The CTBS, which replaces the multiple-choice California Achievement Test, measures student achievement in reading, language and math. Local scores are matched against those of students across the nation.
Backes said the lower second-grade scores were not unexpected. Second-graders, being tested for the first time, generally do not perform well on such exams, she said.
"That's not surprising," she said."It's difficult for these kids. Many districts find lower test results than in succeeding grades."
Backes said the CTBS by itself willnot influence any changes in curriculum or instruction. But, she said, it will be used as a measure, along with the state's functional and criterion-referenced tests, to determine necessary changes in curriculum or instruction.
"To take one score and react is inappropriate," she said.
Although the Carroll scores were included with the results of the Maryland School Performance Program, released earlier this week, educators didn't have any statewide comparisons.
The state initially planned to release CTBS scores with the report card but didn't have a complete list of local results. Those results will be released later.
The CTBS scores were icing on the cake for the 22,000-student district.
Carroll students passed state muster in 11 ofthe 13 academic and other areas of the Maryland School Performance Program, putting the district in third place among the state's 24 school systems. The MSPP evaluates each district against academic and pupil participation criteria.
Carroll students failed to meet state-set goals of "satisfactory" or "excellent" only in writing and secondary student attendance.
The drop in writing scores among first-timetest-takers was a surprise, however. Last year, when the state report card included eight knowledge and participation areas, Carroll attained a satisfactory score in writing.
But, like many districts across the state, Carroll's writing scores dipped. Educators offered several reasons for the 10.4 percent drop, including overconfidence in student performance, but insisted that greater emphasis on the mechanics of writing and explanatory writing would follow.
Although the district was among the highest-performing in the state, behind only Howard and Frederick counties, it falls below the state average in factors that contribute to the quality of education in any school.
Thedistrict's per pupil expenditure of $4,736, for example, puts Carroll 16th in the state's 24 districts. Howard, in contrast, spends $6,029 per student. The state average is $5,461.
Carroll's ratio of 57.4 instructional staff members per 1,000 pupils is the 22nd lowest in the state. Frederick County has a ratio of instructional staff to students of 61.7. The state average is 61.2.
Carroll ranks 12th statewide in wealth per pupil (assessed property value divided by number of students), with $152,032. The state average is $200,002.
Gary E.Dunkleberger, director of curriculum/staff development, said the district's success is not by chance.
Dunkleberger and other educatorsattributed the scores to a focus on excellence, quality of staff, direct involvement of teachers in instructional and other decisions, and an atmosphere of risk-taking.
Despite the county's limited resources, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said Carroll showed the greatest increase in money being spent on classroom instruction of any county in the state during the past decade.
He expressed concern about the district's budget limitations and said he was concerned Carrollwould not have money to fill any gaps in curriculum if students didn't fare well on the criterion-referenced tests.