Schools' Report Cards Vary Significantly Across County

U.s. 40 Corridor Weakens Overall Good Showing

November 17, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Harford County schools exceeded Maryland standards in most of the 13categories on the second statewide report card.

But the Maryland School Performance Program report released Tuesday showed wide disparities in scores in Harford. Schools with most of the unsatisfactory grades were located in the U.S. 40 corridor, which has the county's highest concentration of low-income and military families.

Statewide, the county was near the middle of the class, with excellent marks for its elementary school promotion rate and number of students passing the functional reading test in the ninth and 11th grades.

Ten of the 24 school systems received more excellent marks than Harford.

"We have not reached our potential but I'm pleased withthe direction we are moving," school Superintendent Ray R. Keech said.

He noted that the county has improved in most areas since the 1990 report card and pledged that every school would exceed every standard before the MSPP 1995 deadline.

School districts that fail to meet MSPP standards in all categories by 1995 could face sanctions, such as a state takeover.

All of the county's 27 elementary schoolshad passing grades on promotion rates. Only Havre de Grace and John Archer, which serves special education and severely disabled students, failed to meet attendance goals.

At the secondary level, most ofthe unsatisfactory marks were

recorded at middle and high schoolssouth of Interstate 95. Most of the excellent scores were in the north.

"In those schools with lower socio-economic status, what we have to do is keep on raising expectations among the students, teachersand parents that everyone can learn," Board of Education President George Lisby said.

Failing MSPP standards reflects the fact that students can be educationally handicapped by entering school late, Keech said.

Statewide, 88.4 percent of first-grade students had attended kindergarten, compared with 83.1 percent in Harford.

Keech noted that percentage is lower still in schools with a large proportion of children from lower-income or military families, most of which are clustered around Aberdeen Proving Ground in the U.S. 40 corridor.

For example, every first-grade pupil at Bel Air and Churchville elementary schools had attended kindergarten, compared with only 60.9 percent at Bakerfield in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen High School had failing marks in attendance and dropout rates and the number of ninth-graders who passed three of the four functional exams. "I believe there is an impact in the long run in starting school late," Keech said.

Joppatowne High School Principal Doris L. Williams said her challenge is that "society has not made school a major priority and it filters downto students."

Joppatowne has been working to improve students' chances of making the transition from middle school to high school, shesaid.

The school failed to make the MSPP standards by margins of 3 to 8 percentage points in the number of ninth-graders passing the math, writing and citizenship tests. But 11th-graders surpassed the minimum math standard and won marks for excellence on reading and the other two exams.

For students who have attendance and academic problems at any age, Williams said Joppatowne tries to do everything possi

ble to keep them in school.

"More than anything else, it's the involvement of parents that's going to influence the child's attendance, even with today's different family patterns," she said.

The school has abandoned homeroom classes in the morning in favor of advisory periods in which teachers counsel about 15 students each and call their parents about attendance and academic problems, Williams said. Students in the advisory sections are drawn from each grade level for peer counseling.

Teachers also have stopped giving students progress reports to carry home. Now they are mailed. Parents are alertedearly in the grading period when their children fail exams.

Finally, Joppatowne has copied the rotating schedule begun at Edgewood High School, allowing students some variety as to when they attend classes. "There are morning people and there are afternoon people," Williams said. "We've decided we'll try anything."

Overall, the county received satisfactory grades for the number of students who passed functional tests on writing and mathematics on their first try in the ninth grade.

Harford showed its greatest improvement in the number of ninth-graders passing the math test, which rose from 77.7 percent in 1990 to 83.3 percent this year.

The county failed to meet standards for dropout rates and attendance in grades seven through 12. Keech said passing grades in those areas were within reach.

The countyalso missed state standards for ninth-graders passing the functionaltest on citizenship skills. But the number of students who passed the exam in the 11th grade exceeded the minimum success rate.

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