Lessons From the Head of the Class HOWARD COUNTY

November 17, 1993

News that Howard County has the best school system in Maryland is nothing new. County schools ranked number one in achievement on the state's school performance program for the fourth year in a row. And the Howard system was the only one to meet standards in 13 categories, including test scores and rates of promotion, dropouts and attendance.

Such stratospheric results can be numbing, but the wisest educator would admit that there is always room for improvement.

For Howard, the most glaring problem spot comes from the results of another battery of tests given to third, fifth and eighth-graders that measures learning in reading, math, social studies and science. Howard -- in fact all 24 Maryland school systems -- fell short of state goals in these areas, which they must meet by 1996. Unless those goals are set unreasonably high, parents and administrators have a right to expect the school system will jump any hurdle in its path.

Also, the performance test results shine a light on individual schools that are in need of shoring up. Three county high schools -- Oakland Mills, Howard and Wilde Lake -- received at least one unsatisfactory grade.

Wilde Lake lagged in four areas, including the pass rate for ninth graders taking the citizenship test, the rates of 11th graders taking the math and citizenship tests, and the attendance rate. School officials attribute those shortcomings in part to the high number of Wilde Lake students for whom English is a second language. Nevertheless, scores for Wilde Lake compare favorably with other schools in the state. with the proper attention, Wilde Lake can regain the position it once held when it competed with much-ballyhooed Centennial High School for top honors.

The main message, though, is that all of the teachers, administrators, parents and students who make up the family that is the Howard school system should feel proud of their achievement. It is one based on commitment, not just capital. While Howard spends an average of $6,481 on each pupils, that is only $658 more than the statewide average.

Much of the credit for Howard's success, then, must go to very dedicated students, teachers and staff, and to intensely involved parents.

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