Rise in dropouts hurts Baltimore Co. scores on math, language tests slide Schools trail 15 other districts in state report

November 16, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Baltimore County schools slipped slightly in the Maryland School Performance Report, getting one more unsatisfactory rating -- in high school dropout rate -- than last year and ranking below 15 other school districts in the annual accounting.

County students also lost ground in language and math proficiency as measured by the comprehensive tests of basic skills, which are included in the report but are not among the state standards.

The county met 10 of the state's 13 standards, getting excellent marks for grade school promotions, the number of students passing the ninth- and 11th-grade functional reading tests and the number of students passing the 11th-grade writing test.

The county got satisfactory ratings for elementary school attendance, the number of ninth-graders passing the mathematics and writing tests, for the number of 11th-graders passing all functional tests and for those passing the mathematics and citizenship tests.

The ratings and test scores are for the 1992-1993 school year.

In a written statement, Superintendent Stuart Berger called the report card "a wake-up call for the school system" and said he intends for every school to meet every standard in the future and "not lose ground in one category or another along the way."

The high school dropout rate, which was a satisfactory 3 percent last year, fell to an unsatisfactory 3.32 percent this year.

"In tough economic times, kids will leave to go to work," said Paul Mazza, director of student evaluations. "We are trying real hard to keep kids in school."

The county has three alternative middle schools and two alternative high schools for disruptive students. Those programs should lower the dropout rate, Mr. Mazza said.

The other two areas in which Baltimore County failed to meet the state standards were:

* Ninth-grade citizenship achievement, falling short by one-tenth 1 percent, with 84.9 percent of the students passing. Last year 84.7 percent of the students passed.

* Attendance in grades seven through 12, in which 92.9 percent of the students were in school on any given day, down from 93.1 percent last year. In elementary school, 95.2 percent of the students attended daily. The state says 94 percent attendance is satisfactory, 96 percent excellent.

The county's attendance figures are affected by its large number of Jewish students, many of whom do not attend school on religious holidays. The county excuses religious absences, but "the state, for performance program purposes, does not," said Dr. Berger, who has questioned that standard's importance.

Though reading comprehension scores went up, language and math scores dropped in the comprehensive test of basic skills given to students in the third, fifth and eighth grades. The median percentile for fifth-graders rose from 54 to 62, meaning that county students scored as well as or better than 62 percent of the students taking the reading test.

In language, however, the median percentile fell from 59.6 last year to 53 this year, and in math it slipped from 65.8 to 62.

"We need to address the skills classroom by classroom," Dr. Berger said. "It's a difficult task, but I feel confident that our teaching staff is excellent and well-qualified to teach students to compute and use language."

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