Lessons from Carroll's Test Scores CARROLL COUNTY

November 18, 1993

Once again, the Carroll County school system received solid marks in the state functional tests that measure basic academic achievement. The system was able to achieve these admirable results even though its per pupil spending is about $800 less than the state average.

Parents, teachers, administrators and students should be pleased. At the same time, it should be noted that, on average, there are few poor children among the county's student population. While poverty doesn't determine scholastic achievement, there is a high correlation between poverty and poor academic performance.

The number of poor children in the school system is the second lowest in the state. About nine percent of the county's students receive subsidized lunches -- a good yardstick for determining need. Only Howard County, with 6.7 percent of its students receiving subsidized lunches, has fewer of them than Carroll.

In turn, it should not be surprising that Carroll and Howard score the highest on the state's functional tests. (Neither is it surprising that Baltimore City, with two-thirds of its students receiving subsidized lunches, posts the worst scores.)

Children from middle-class families are better prepared for school. Of Carroll's first graders, 98.7 percent attended kindergarten. Middle-class families also ensure that their children finish school: Carroll is among the five counties that have less than three percent of their high school students dropping out.

The link between favorable conditions and results notwithstanding, Carroll's students have demonstrated that they can improve their performance. More of them are taking college preparatory courses than in previous years. And for the four Maryland functional tests, the number of high school students passing increased in all categories except mathematics, which slipped slightly.

School Superintendent R. Edward Shilling acknowledges that room for improvement remains. In the tougher "criterion reference" tests that measure higher problem-solving skills, few Carroll schools met the more stringent standards. However, given the ability of Carroll's students to score well on the functional tests, they should have no trouble duplicating those results on the more difficult exams.

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