Bells (or Buzzers) Signal New Year HOWARD COUNTY

August 27, 1993

Bells no longer toll in the school yard to herald a new year. Those are relics of a simpler time. Now there are electronic buzzers, and the business of educating has grown increasingly complex.

Despite the many changes, Howard County schools, which open Monday, have maintained a sterling reputation that should make nearly every parent proud and reassured. Besides consistently scoring above U.S. and state averages on the national achievement tests, Howard has scored No. 1 in the Maryland School Performance Report Card for three years running.

Moreover, Howard has the second-lowest dropout rate in the state, 2 percent. And 84 percent of its graduates go on to post-secondary education. Teachers will begin the semester with less cause for disillusionment than in recent autumns, too. Teachers, after receiving no salary increase two years ago and a modest longevity pay raise for some last year, will receive up to 5.5-percent raises this year.

Still, not everything confronting the school system can be tinted in rosier hues. Hard choices face the county on the issue of year-round schools. The idea already has support from County Executive Charles Ecker and Superintendent Michael Hickey, as well as Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who suggested Howard County as a guinea pig for a pilot program. This issue, however, has far-reaching ramifications and must be studied and approached with utmost caution.

Year-round schools is not the only innovation requiring scrutiny. The new school year also marks the beginning of the MASSI program, which is aimed at improving the test scores of African-American students. The acronym stands for Motivation, Assessment, Structure, Support and Instruction, a real tongue-twister.

The goal is to train teachers at six pilot schools in different methods of engaging black students. They'll discuss group interaction in the classroom and how to make the material they're teaching more relevant. But much work remains before this much-lauded program is put into those test schools next February. And, it has a long way to go before success can be measured, much less claimed. It surely should not go the way of so many other education plans, that is, put on a shelf and forgotten.

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