State ponders 'challenging' school goals Objective: Applying knowledge to life

May 26, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

The State Department of Education is proposing performance standards that "only a handful" of Maryland public schools could meet today but which as many as 70 percent of them might be able to meet in three years.

"The idea of a standard is to set something challenging, but attainable," said Mark Moody, an assistant state superintendent. Mr. Moody presented the performance standards to the State Board of Education yesterday.

The standards pertain to the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests that measure students' skills and knowledge and how well they can apply them in real-life situations.

The performance tests, which differ greatly from traditional standardized tests, gauge proficiency in mathematics, reading, science and social studies. Scores range from Level 1 -- the highest -- to Level 5 -- the lowest.

The proposed standards say that satisfactory performance is Level 3 or better; excellent performance is Level 2 or better. By the year 2000, 95 percent of the state's students and schools should be performing at a satisfactory level and 50 percent of the schools at an excellent level, the education department says.

The department is also proposing "interim goals" for tests given during the 1995-1996 school year: 70 percent of the schools will be achieving satisfactory results and 25 percent will have excellent scores. The tests are given each spring to all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in the state's public schools.

If the 1992 test scores reported yesterday were applied to these proposed standards, "only a handful of schools at each grade level would be satisfactory" in the four subject areas, said Mr. Moody.

Here's how some of the 1992 results look when applied to the proposed standards:

* Grade three, reading: 28.6 percent of the students are satisfactory; 2 percent are excellent.

* Grade five, mathematics: 42.9 percent of the students are satisfactory -- the closest any group came to the satisfactory standard; 5.9 percent excellent.

* Grade eight, science: 26.9 percent satisfactory; 2.9 percent excellent.

"We have a long way to go," said Mr. Moody.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick echoed his sentiments: going to be very difficult [to reach the proposed standards], but that doesn't discourage me. That will prod us to move in the right direction."

"What we want to see is instruction changed for the kids."

Board member Dr. Edward Andrews questioned establishing one set of standards for all students, when each county and Baltimore City spend different amounts of money on their students.

Some jurisdictions spend as much as 50 percent more than others.

"I don't want lesser standards for the children of Baltimore City than for the children of Montgomery County," he said.

The city spends $4,947 per pupil and Montgomery County spends $7,591 per student, according to the 1992 Maryland School Performance Report issued in November.

"We need to spend as much effort on resources [as on standards]. I'm not going to vote for any of this unless it's coupled with adequate and fair resources throughout the state," he said. Dr. Andrews later cast the only vote against beginning the process to establish and approve the assessment test standards.

The state board is scheduled to vote on those standards at its July meeting. Four public hearings on the proposed standards will be held before then.

The standards were developed by two groups of educators and community leaders who studied the skills and proficiency levels associated with the tests, Mr. Moody said.

The tests are the second part of the performance program, started in 1990 to make schools accountable and more effective in teaching what youngsters will need to know in the 21st century. The first part involves 13 standards, including attendance and drop-out rates, functional test scores and promotions in grades one to six. Schools have been accountable for these standards since 1990.

Yesterday, the education department presented the board with proposed regulations that would allow it to intervene if schools are not meeting this first set of standards.

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