Howard students remain above national average on standardized tests But disparity noted in scores for blacks, Hispanics

September 24, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County students continue to score above the national average on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, a national standardized test that measures students' knowledge in math, language and reading.

More than 75 percent of students who took the test scored in the above-average or high-average ranges, and 50 percent performed at or above where they had been expected to score, as predicted by another standardized test, the Test of Cognitive Skills.

The Basic Skills test is administered annually to all students in the third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

"Our results are stable, which means we're not losing ground," said Leslie Walker-Bartnick, testing supervisor for county schools. The report was released at this week's school board meeting.

But black and Hispanic students scored below the county averages in all areas. Blacks who did well on the test, placing in the above- and high-average ranges, generally scored lower than non-black students in those same categories.

That disparity in standardized test scores is common across the nation, according to Robert Slavin, a director at the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students.

He attributed the differences in scores for black students and white students to differences in family income, not to race. In general, poorer students score lower than middle-class students, regardless of race, he said.

In Howard County, median household income for black families was roughly $31,000, about $12,500 less than white families and $18,600 less than Asian-American families, according to 1990 U.S. Census data.

Dr. Slavin said that student performance is also affected by teaching methods and the expectations a teacher holds for the students.

He said school systems must intervene early with students who are at risk of academic problems. For example, young elementary school students who aren't exposed to much reading should be assigned tutors, he said.

The school system's report found that male students tended to score lower than female students in reading and language. Only in math were scores comparable.

The report also tracked scores for fifth-graders who took the test last year and in 1991, as third-graders.

Asian-American, white and Hispanic students maintained their rankings -- and, on the average, exceeded their anticipated scores -- from third to fifth grade. School officials say that indicates an effective instructional program.

But black students failed to maintain their ranking when they reached fifth grade.

School officials use CTBS results to help identify students who may be gifted as well as which teachers or schools are ineffective in their instructional programs.

The math portion of the test measures students' abilities with math applications and concepts. Howard County third-graders scored better than 72 percent of third-graders nationally; fifth-graders scored better than 73 percent of fifth-graders; eighth-graders, better than 79 percent of eighth-graders; and eleventh-graders better than 75 percent of eleventh graders.

The language section tests grammar and punctuation. Third-graders did better than 69 percent of their cohorts nationwide; fifth-graders better than 70 percent; eighth-graders better than 67 percent; and 11-graders better than 65 percent.

The reading section tests vocabulary and comprehension. Third-graders fared better than 67 percent of third-grade students nationwide; fifth-graders better than 72 percent; eighth-graders better than 77 percent; and eleventh-graders better than 71 percent.

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