Holding up local scores next to those of the wealthier Howard County, Carroll school officials beamed over a self-described tie for first place in the Maryland School Performance Program.
"The news from Carroll County is absolutely outstanding," said Superintendent R. Edward Shilling at a press conference yesterday at which the test results were released.
The program is the annual "report card" the state hands out to local districts and schools. The tests measure basic, functional skills in reading, writing, math and citizenship in high school; the rate of promotion in elementary schools; and the attendance rate for all grades.
Carroll and Howard were the only two of 24 districts in Maryland to reach or exceed the state standards in all 13 categories. Carroll rated "excellent" on five of the 13 categories, and missed excellent ratings by small margins in four more.
But many more statistics were offered by the report.
Despite high marks elsewhere, Carroll again showed a relatively low percentage of graduates who took a course load that would satisfy entrance requirements to the University of Maryland.
Only 39.2 percent of Carroll students were listed as meeting those requirements, compared with a statewide average of 42.5 percent.
Officials said they were not worried about those results, however, because the county still came in third in the percentage of students who actually go on to four-year colleges -- 39.7 percent.
"If this number were not what it is, we would have great concerns," said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum and staff development.
Last year, the county showed that only 28.6 percent of its students met University of Maryland requirements, but Dr. Dunkleberger said that number was certainly the result of flawed reporting.
Carroll school officials had no way to measure that last year without looking at each student's file individually, he said. This year, student transcripts are on a computer data base.
Other reasons that Dr. Dunkleberger said could account for Carroll's low showing could be that several students planned to go to other colleges with different course requirements. Also, local school districts decide which courses qualify as meeting University of Maryland requirements, so what students actually learn varies from county to county, he said.
"Obviously our students were performing," he said. "They were admitted into four-year colleges."
Mr. Shilling said that students have been able to get by in school without committing to a goal of preparing for college or a trade, even if the trade requires further schooling.
That will change as part of a school improvement program
throughout the system, he said.
"They're going to have to make that decision -- one or the other or both," Mr. Shilling said.
"Parents have to assume some responsibility in this area," he said.
When students sign up for courses, their parents must approve them.
Similarly, he said, the results from Scholastic Aptitude Tests show that Carroll students who took difficult courses, such as British literature or high-level math, score significantly higher than their classmates who did not take those courses.
"If you want your children to do better on their SATs, insist they take [harder courses]," Mr. Shilling said.
While Howard schools exceeded the 13 standards by much more than Carroll did, Mr. Shilling said the staff-to-student ratio is higher and the amount spent per pupil is much lower in Carroll County.
Carroll County ranks 12th in the state in wealth but ranks 17th in per-pupil spending, at $5,076, Mr. Schilling said.
The superintendent said that for Carroll to spend as much per pupil as Howard does would require adding another $36 million to its $112 million budget.
For Mr. Shilling, the two surprises this year were that Carroll met the attendance standard -- which many school officials statewide had said was unrealistic a few years ago -- and that the Carroll school budget shrunk at a greater rate than the state average.
Meanwhile, the real work will begin at individual schools, where principals and their staffs will look at much more specific results than those released to the public yesterday, said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education.
"They're also preparing for standards not yet set, like the criterion reference test," Mrs. Mangle said.
That test measures students' abilities to solve problems and work together rather than to merely memorize facts.
Parents may view the test results in detail at their local schools or at Board of Education headquarters in the Courthouse Annex, 55 N. Court Street, Westminster.
Here is a look at how other area school systems fared:
Anne Arundel County schools gained ground this year in 10 categories in the state testing program, but still failed in four of 13 categories.
The greatest improvements came in the number of first-time test-takers who passed the reading, math, writing and citizenship tests.