Improving Grades

November 17, 1992

The state's annual "report card" shows Maryland schools are making progress -- and yet they have a long way to go.

The third annual Maryland School Performance Report, issued yesterday by the state Department of Education, finds the state's schools, overall, meeting 7 of 13 performance standards -- up from 5 of 13 last year and 2 of 8 two years ago.

Two of the state's 24 school districts -- Carroll and Howard counties -- met all 13 standards. Three others -- Frederick, Garrett and Montgomery -- met 12 of 13.

State school officials were also forthright in pointing out where more work is needed:

* Only 73 percent of ninth graders passed the functional math test.

* The statewide dropout rate is up, apparently due largely to a more accurate count in Baltimore City, where the rate is appallingly high.

* African-American and Hispanic students perform well below bTC their white and Asian-American peers. Only about half of black ninth graders passed the functional math test, for example, while five of six white students passed.

The state is doing a good job in setting standards and reporting to the public on whether the standards are met. Here, too, however, there is more to be done.

The state must continue to refine its new and tougher tests, which have been given for two years but which are not yet included in the annual report card. They are designed to go beyond basic skills to test thinking and problem-solving. Their eventual inclusion in the report -- perhaps as early as next year -- will give a much clearer picture of what students are able to do. The new tests will also give the report card its first achievement data from elementary and middle schools.

Beyond demonstrating a need to improve instruction in math and government and to study the achievement of minority students, the report card again calls into question the state's method of distributing school funds. The four school districts which failed to meet a majority of the standards are Baltimore City and Prince George's County, both with urban problems, and two poor, rural districts, Caroline and St. Mary's counties.

While the state is beginning a commendable program to provide money and advice to some two dozen low-scoring "challenge schools," it still must revamp a system that ends up spending the least money on students who need the most help.

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