Howard County school officials are pleased with the latest county scores on a statewide test designed to measure how well students apply what they learn in the classroom.
But they say there is room for improvement on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, particularly in the areas of social studies and reading.
Among school districts statewide, the county's 7,500 third- , fifth- and eighth-graders ranked first in math, reading and science, according to 1993 test scores released by the county last week.
Third- and eighth-graders also ranked first statewide in social studies, while fifth-graders came in second in the same topic.
"We are on target," said Leslie Walker-Bartnick, the school system's testing specialist. "The things we are doing are having an impact. But we have a ways to go yet."
But school board Chairman Dana Hanna said it was too early to make a judgment on the test results because the state Department of Education is still trying to work out some problems with the testing program.
"It's a little premature to make gross or grandiose statements in any regard, up, down or otherwise," he said.
The MSPAP, which began in 1991, is intended to measure the progress students make in achieving the skills they should have by high school graduation, under state Department of Education requirements.
Known as "criterion-referenced tests" because of their format, the MSPAP tests require students to apply knowledge to answer questions. Instead of filling in answers to multiple-choice questions, for example, students often must work together in groups and then go to their test booklets to answer questions about the task.
Students are ranked according to five proficiency levels, with 1 being the highest and 5 being the lowest. A Level 1 rating on a reading test, for example, indicates that a student has "comprehensive understanding of the text." A Level 4 means that a student has "little understanding of the text."
To receive a satisfactory rating in a particular subject area, a school must have 70 percent of its students scoring in proficiency Levels 1, 2 and 3. To receive an excellent rating, 25 percent of students taking the test must score in proficiency Levels 1 and 2.
In Howard County overall, more than 50 percent of students at each grade level scored in the satisfactory range in math and science. Just under 40 percent scored in the satisfactory range in reading, and a little more than 40 percent scored in the satisfactory range in social studies.
The state goal is to have 70 percent of students in each school scoring satisfactory or better by 1996 and 95 percent scoring that well by 2000.
Despite the county's relatively high scores, school officials criticized the state Department of Education for not giving them enough guidance on what it measures in reading and social studies.
"Part of the sticking point is they're rushing so much to develop the tests . . . that they don't have time to help the local school systems," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said. "The state can do more . . . if it wasn't pushed to develop new tests."
Dr. Walker-Bartnick said the biggest complaints come from reading teachers who don't know what is expected of their students.
"The teachers will ask you, 'What is it they want to see? What does a good answer look like?' " she said. "We don't have any real good information yet."
Among highlights of the results, released at last week's school board meeting:
* In reading, Burleigh Manor, Clarksville and Wilde Lake middle schools had the highest percentages of students who received a satisfactory rating. At the fifth-grade level, Swansfield, Hammond and Thunder Hill elementary schools had the highest percentages. No scores were reported at the third-grade level because of technical errors in the test by the state.
* In math, Dunloggin, Patapsco and Harper's Choice middle schools had the top percentages of students who earned a satisfactory rating.
At the fifth-grade level, Clemens Crossing, Waverly and Centennial Lane elementary schools had the highest percentages, while at the third-grade level, Forest Ridge, Bushy Park and Swansfield elemen
tary schools had the highest percentages of students with a satisfactory rating.
* In social studies, Burleigh Manor, Clarksville and Patapsco middle schools, respectively, had the highest numbers of students who received a satisfactory rating.
Swansfield, Bushy Park and Centennial Lane elementary schools had the highest percentages of fifth-graders who attained a satisfactory rating, while Swansfield, Clemens Crossing and Thunder Hill elementary schools had the highest percentages of third-graders who also earned a satisfactory rating.
* Results of the science test at the middle school level were not released because of technical errors in the test by the state.