Schools far from 'satisfactory'

February 17, 1994|By Mary Maushard and Gary Gately | Mary Maushard and Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writers Staff writers Sherrie Ruhl, Anne Haddad, Carol Bowers and Lan Nguyen contributed to this article.

Few Baltimore City or Baltimore County schools came even close to a "satisfactory" showing in the 1993 state performance test designed to measure how well students can apply their knowledge.

Because of vastly different reporting procedures, however, it is difficult to compare local scores with the state averages released yesterday morning. Most school systems released their scores -- in many different forms -- later in the day.

Only nine of Baltimore County's 94 elementary schools reached the state standard for satisfactory performance in at least one subject. None of the county's 25 middle schools achieved a satisfactory score in any subject.

Baltimore City schools released scores showing how many students achieved each of the test's five proficiency levels and made no attempt to determine how many, if any, schools achieved a "satisfactory" ranking.

The controversial tests under the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, first given in 1991, reportedly measure students' abilities to apply what they know to real-life situations in math, reading, social studies and science.

Individual students' scores are divided into five performance levels. According to recently adopted state standards, a school gets a "satisfactory" rating if at least 70 percent of its students scored in the three highest levels.

In slightly more than 3 percent of Baltimore County's elementary schools, third-graders met at least one of the standards. In only one school did third-graders meet the standards in three of the four subjects.

In 8.5 percent of the elementary schools, fifth-graders met the standard in at least one subject. Only two schools had fifth grades that met standards in at least three subjects.

Baltimore County took a "hard-line approach" to reporting its scores, said Paul Mazza, the system's director of student evaluations. Unlike the state, it did not report how many schools were close to meeting standards. "The only thing that counts is whether you meet the standard. It's like baseball. Did you hit a home run or didn't you?" he said.

In Baltimore City, in all subjects and grades, the majority of students scored at the two lowest levels. For example, more than 91 percent of the third-graders taking the test scored at the two lowest levels. About 8 percent reached Level 3, and none scored at the highest level.

Among fifth graders, 86.8 percent scored at the two lowest levels, while 12.5 percent reached Level 3, and none scored at the highest level. More than 93 percent of the city's eighth-graders scored in the lowest two levels, with 6.4 percent reaching Level 3.

"We're not meeting the standards because the testing is way ahead of the teaching," said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "The process is very much backward."

All the Baltimore County schools that meet the state standards are "traditionally high-scoring schools," said Dr. Mazza. They are also all located in well-to-do areas in the central and northwestern areas of the county.

The nine elementaries with satisfactory ratings are: Fort Garrison, Pinewood, Pot Spring, Warren, Carroll Manor, Riderwood, Sparks, Hampton and Summit Park.

These schools put the county slightly above the state average, said Dr. Mazza, though that is not readily apparent because of reporting differences between the county and state.

"Baltimore County is in its traditional position, doing as we would normally do, but we are not really happy," he said.

School officials defended their showing by saying that the test is still in its shakedown stages, with students learning how to take it and teachers how to administer it.

In fact, third-grade reading scores and eighth-grade science scores were not reported at all this year because of what state officials said were flaws in test construction or scoring.

Superintendent Stuart Berger said the Baltimore County school system is committed to reaching the state goals as quickly as possible. In his proposed 1994-95 budget, Dr. Berger is asking for $5.2 million to help schools in low-income areas improve the skills that are tested.

Here are results from other metropolitan counties:

Harford County

Harford County's students generally scored above the state average, but only one school, Ring Factory Elementary, posted an excellent score in any subject -- fifth-grade math.

None of the county's schools met the fifth-grade standard for social studies, though Bel Air, Youth's Benefit and Ring Factory elementaries came close.

None of the county's seven middle schools met the eighth-grade standard or even came close for social studies and reading. However, four schools approached the standard for math: Bel Air, Fallston, Southampton and North Harford.

Two of the county's 22 elementary schools reached satisfactory levels in third-grade math: Norrisville Elementary and Youth Bend in Fallston. Four elementaries came close to meeting the standard: Forest Hill, Prospect Mill, Ring Factory and Homestead/Wakefield.

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