City's schools rank last, vow renewed effort

November 17, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Baltimore public schools ranked dead last in the state's third annual local school "report card," issued yesterday.

In the 1991-1992 school year, Baltimore met state standards only in elementary school promotion and in the number of 11th-graders passing the state reading test required to graduate. But school officials were braced for those results, and they said they are pressing ahead with programs to address the problem.

"It's obvious that the state's problems in education . . . are concentrated for the most part in Baltimore," said city Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who released school-by-school results yesterday.

He cited, in part, "the many problems associated with poverty and blight in the urban areas," as factors in the city's poor performance.

Baltimore is among the state's poorest jurisdictions, with 67 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, and a high number of students with handicaps and other special needs.

According to the state report card, Baltimore schools fell behind in 11 of 13 categories -- actually a improvement from a year ago when they didn't meet the standards in 12 categories. The latest category in which the city now makes the grade is promotion rate for first through sixth grades. The state standard is 96 percent, and the city's rate rose to 96.5 percent from 94.7 percent the previous year.

In several of the categories in which the city still does not meet the standards, it did post a modest improvement over the previous year:

* The percentage of ninth-graders taking and passing the state's mandatory reading and writing tests increased from last year, jumping to 70.7 percent for the writing test from 62.4 percent.

* Attendance, though below the state standard, rose slightly, to 91.4 percent at the elementary school level, and 80.6 percent at the secondary school level.

The percentage of students who missed more than 20 days of school last year dipped slightly, to 35.4 percent, while the number of students who missed fewer than five days jumped to 19.9 percent, up 3.6 percent. Serious attendance problems remain, however. At one regular high school, Walbrook, 77.8 percent of the students missed more than 20 days last year.

Dr. Amprey said that he was "very concerned" that fewer students were passing the state's mandatory mathematics test at the ninth- and 11th-grade levels.

The superintendent also said the city's serious dropout problem is a continuing worry.

According to the state's report, Baltimore posted an annual dropout rate of 16.4 percent last year; the city claims the correct rate is actually about 14 percent.

Either way, said Dr. Amprey, "it's bad. We don't want to hide behind any of that analytical discussion. We have got to do a better job . . . in keeping children in school longer."

African-American students also show many of the same academic problems noted statewide by Maryland school officials.

"We recognize it as a major concern, and there are a number of initiatives that are taking place around black males right now," said Denise Borders, head of accountability for the city system.

The report card results drew a mixed reaction from others contacted.

"If you look at the trend of the numbers, there's clearly a trend in the right direction," said Phillip H. Farfel, school board president. cited the increase in attendance and in some ninth-grade performance tests, which improved while failing to meet the state's standards.

But Linda Prudente, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union, warned that real improvement is likely to take years and that the state's testing and performance review program places extra burdens on local school systems.

TESSERACT MEETING

Time and place: The president of a Minneapolis company that this year took over nine Baltimore public schools will discuss the five-year experiment in an address at 7 p.m. today to the 51st annual meeting of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. David Bennett, president of Education Alternative Inc., is scheduled to speak in the George Peabody Library, 17 E. Mount Vernon Place.

Tesseract", an experimental education program named after a term in a child's science fiction novel, puts the nine schools in the hands of a private management company that promises computers and extra teachers in the classroom, innovative teaching methods and one-on-one instruction. Dr. Bennett's talk titled, "What Is a Tesseract School? How Will It Work? How Will We Know if It is Working?"

Admission to the event is free to CPHA members, with a $10 donation requested of non-members. Information and reservations: 539-1369.

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