Too many students are dropping out of Anne Arundel County schools, and not enough are passing a fairly new test designed to measure thinking and problem-solving skills, according to state Department of Education figures released yesterday.
The state "report card" examines all aspects of education in Maryland's 24 school districts, including attendance, dropout rates, the number of students who pass, and how well students do on four tests that measure their knowledge of reading, writing, math and citizenship.
Overall, Anne Arundel met 11 of 13 standards established by the state Board of Education. The state's goal is for the 24 school districts to meet the state's goals by the year 2000.
The county's worst category was in keeping high school students in school. The dropout rate was listed at 4.46 percent.
That was down considerably from 5.9 percent when the Maryland School Performance Program began five years ago, but it was up from last year's dropout rate of 3.76 percent, the lowest recorded.
A school system needs a dropout rate of no more than 3 percent to win a "satisfactory" rating. A rate of 1.25 percent or lower wins an "excellent" rating.
Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and support services for the county public schools, called the dropout rate "troubling."
He also said he was concerned about how the number of dropouts is calculated. The complicated formula fails to show that many students the state considers dropouts actually return to school, he said.
The school system also failed to meet minimum state attendance standards for grades seven through 12.
"We were as close as could be without making it to 'satisfactory,' " said Timothy Dangel, coordinator of research for Anne Arundel's schools. "It may be that the number of students absent for more than 20 days increased."
The school system also failed to meet state standards for attendance in grades seven through 12, but just barely. The minimum attendance rate is 94 percent. Anne Arundel's attendance rate was 93.9 percent, a slight drop from 1993 rate of 94.2 percent.
Anne Arundel failed to meet minimum scores for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, as did every other school district. The test measures students' abilities in reading, math, social studies, science, writing and language usage.
"That's fine, because this is an extremely difficult test, and we will see incremental improvement," said Ronald A. Pieffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "We don't see any of the school districts coming close to those standards for a couple of years."
This year, the percentage of Anne Arundel students who met the standard ranged from 23.7 percent to 53.6 percent, depending on grade level and the skill being measured. The state minimum is 70 percent.
Last year, the percentage of Anne Arundel students meeting the proposed standard ranged from 23.7 percent to 53.1 percent, varying by grade level and the skill being measured.
The tests are designed to assess students' abilities to compare and contrast ideas, characters and events; create solutions to real-life problems; develop plans to solve problems; and demonstrate other skills.
The reasons for giving such a revolutionary test are simple, said Dr. Dangel.
"We have to teach students how to apply and use what they've learned. We know it doesn't happen magically," he said. "And, No. 2, what you test and what you grade is what communicates what is important. It's not just about learning and memorizing facts. We need to go beyond that and use skills in a real-world way."
The county's school-by-school data will be released Jan. 17.
"I'm like any good researcher," said Dr. Dangel. "The minute you see the data, you ask 15 more questions."