Local students do better on tests than state as a whole

June 20, 1993|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Staff Writer

The percentage of Harford students who received at least satisfactory scores on new state performance tests exceeded that of the state as a whole.

But Harford schools fell far short of tough new standards the state expects to reach by 1996.

Results, released Tuesday, show the Harford third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who took the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program tests in the spring of 1992 averaged higher scores than those for the state as a whole in reading, math, science and social studies.

The new state tests, which measure how well students apply what they learn in the classroom, are an integral part of an ambitious program designed to hold individual schools responsible for student performance by requiring them to meet new standards.

The percentages of the roughly 8,200 Harford County students tested who scored satisfactory or better exceeded that of the state as a whole in every category at each of the three grade levels.

Students' scores are ranked by levels, from first to fifth. The third level is considered "satisfactory," and the first and second "excellent."

In Harford, students fared best on the fifth-grade math test, in which 53.6 percent of them scored at the third level or better. Statewide, by contrast, 45.9 percent of fifth-graders scored at the third level or better.

But Harford officials noted that county schools have a lot of work to do to meet proposed state standards, which would rank schools satisfactory only if at least 70 percent of their students score at the third level or better by 1996.

Those schools would be ranked "excellent" if at least 25 percent of their students scored at the first or second levels.

"We're not yet satisfied," said Superintendent Ray R. Keech. "I see this as a beginning. This is the first lap in our journey."

He praised the new tests, saying they measure schools' ability to teach students "not how to memorize, but how to learn, be resourceful, analyze, problem-solve, the things we have to do in real life."

The tests, for example, ask students to determine how much space they would need if they were planning to build a restaurant.

"This test does a better job of preparing the kids to compete in the global economy," Dr. Keech said. "It will cause the school system to modify instructional strategies. In the past, [students] memorized facts, passed the tests, and if they were asked six months later to apply what they had learned, they wouldn't know where to start."

Of Harford third-graders, about 40 percent scored satisfactory or better in reading, 38 percent in math, 46 percent in social studies and 43 percent in science.

For fifth-graders, about 29 percent scored satisfactory or better in reading, 44 percent in social studies and 45 percent in math. About 32 percent of eighth-graders scored satisfactory or better in reading, 50 percent in math, 41 percent in social studies and 39 percent in science.

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