Plenty to crow about HOWARD COUNTY

November 17, 1992

Howard school officials have plenty to crow about in the latest results from the Maryland functional tests.

Howard, along with Carroll County, were the only jurisdictions to score a "satisfactory" or "excellent" in every category, including reading, mathematics, writing and citizenship.

What that means is that by the 11th grade, 98.3 percent or more of Howard County students passed all the tests the state requires forgraduation.

Not unexpectedly, Superintendent Michael Hickey seized upon

the results to make the best case he can for shielding the school system from budget cuts that would harm the classroom.

Currently, Howard ranks second in Maryland in per pupil expenditures behind Montgomery County, spending $6,695 annually per student.

Maintaining that high level of support will have to be debated as the county comes to grips with the latest round of budget cuts.

For now, however, school officials appear justified in inferring that dollars make a difference when it comes to student performance. While many factors contributed to the results, generally rich counties performed well on the state test and poor counties didn't.

The results of the functional tests still must be viewed with caution if the school system is to maintain or improve its standing in some areas. While the county scored satisfactory in mathematics and citizenship, the percentage of students passing in those areas has declined since last year.

What that decline reveals, particularly in the area of mathematics, is the continuing gap between the performances of white and African-American pupils, with the latter trailing significantly.

Among first-time test takers, blacks passed at a rate of about 60 percent, compared with an 86 percent rate for whites. That is a deplorable disparity, particularly in a county that otherwise performs so well. The problem must be addressed if county schools are to meet their full potential.

It should also come as little surprise that along with the overall high marks Howard received, student attendance showed improvement and the dropout rate among high schoolers declined. That is what we would expect from a report card this good.

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