Howard Co. students slip in state exams required for graduation

July 28, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County middle and high school students slipped in several areas last year on the state functional exams required for graduation, school officials told the Howard County school board Thursday night.

But Howard students continue to score among the highest in Maryland on the exams, which assess only very basic skills and are being replaced with more stringent tests.

School board members at Thursday night's meeting also began discussing bills they plan to submit to the local legislative delegation for the General Assembly's next session.

The test scores released Thursday involve the Maryland Functional Test, a set of exams in reading, math, writing and citizenship that Maryland students are required to pass to receive a high school diploma.

The tests check such basic skills that Howard and most other school systems give the tests to students as early as seventh grade.

In last year's tests, Howard's biggest drops were in ninth-graders' performance on the math portion and in all grade levels' achievement on the writing part of the test. The percentage of county 11th-graders who passed all four exams declined, from 95.6 percent to 94.1 percent.

"We have a ways to go" to achieve "excellent" ratings on the annual school report cards put out by the state as part of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, said Leslie Walker-Bartnick, the county's supervisor of testing.

Even so, all Howard students eventually pass the tests by graduation. And four of five Howard students entering high school this fall already have passed the reading, writing and math portions of the test. The citizenship section is not given until 10th grade.

The state Department of Education is developing a set of more difficult subject exams that it plans to require of graduates in the Class of 2004 -- making it more important for students to pass the basic functional tests at an earlier age, Walker-Bartnick said.

With the new exams, students "will have a hard time if they're still trying to pass the functional tests in 12th grade," Walker-Bartnick told the board.

Among the results presented at Thursday night's meeting:

County ninth-graders scored "excellent" in reading, with 99 percent passing the exam; 10th-graders scored "excellent" on the citizenship exam, with 93.7 percent passing; and nTC 11th-graders scored "excellent" for reading, with 99.7 percent passing.

But ninth-grade math results and 11th-grade writing results slipped from "excellent" to "satisfactory."

Centennial High School was the only high school believed to have achieved an "excellent" rating in every ninth- and 11th-grade category. The exact standards for the "excellent" rating for 1995-1996 have not been set by the state, but Centennial's scores were higher than last year's standards.

Howard and Wilde Lake were the only two high schools where fewer than 90 percent of 11th-graders had passed all four exams.

Howard schools will begin giving the reading portion of the tests to sixth-graders this fall, allowing those students who need help to be identified earlier, Walker-Bartnick said.

"Giving the test in sixth grade reflects what they learned in elementary school," Walker-Bartnick said. "Then, the middle schools' job is to identify the students who need some extra help."

In other business at Thursday's meeting, members decided not to seek permission from the General Assembly to charge a fee for bus transportation after being reassured that the school system will get enough transportation money from the state for at least the next two years.

Last year, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey raised the possibility that the school system eventually might have to charge fees for bus transportation -- a decision that would require a change in state law. Montgomery County's school system also has discussed charging a transportation fee.

But board members decided not to seek a change in the law. "I agree that it's neither desirable nor feasible to charge for bus service," said board member Sandra French.

The board also agreed to submit a bill to the county's legislative delegation seeking a salary review commission similar to the one in place for the Howard County Council.

The commission would review board members' salaries every three years and recommend raises to the local delegation. Board members' salaries are set by the General Assembly.

Last year, the board asked the local delegation to double board members' annual salaries from $6,000 to $12,000, but the delegation only granted a raise to $9,000 per year.

The raise was the first sought by the board in a decade. Board members said they didn't want to let such a long period pass before their next raise.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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