School results vary widely Balto. Co. officials hard-pressed to find lesson in scores

December 14, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's 125 elementary and middle schools posted wide swings in performance on last year's test of critical thinking -- confounding educators trying to grasp trends and devise strategies to meet state standards by the year 2000.

Scores plunged in third-grade math, science and social studies on the 1996 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program MSPAP) tests, according to school-by-school results released yesterday -- a pattern repeated statewide and not yet explained. Third-grade reading scores also declined.

Bucking that trend, however, some of Baltimore County's brightest stars were elementary schools. Among them: third-graders at Fullerton Elementary, the only group to meet all the standards in every subject. And Prettyboy Elementary gained 25.4 points since 1993 to 62 percent of students achieving a satisfactory score on the tests.

Composite scores ranged from 73.8 percent of students achieving a satisfactory rating at Fort Garrison Elementary in the Stevenson area -- which has few low-income students -- to 12.9 percent at Mars Estates Elementary on the east side, where a high proportion of students qualify for subsidized lunches.

The state goal is for 70 percent of students to reach satisfactory status on six tests at three grade levels within four years.

"The third-grade scores were a surprise to all of us," said schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione. "We're in the process of asking why that happened. We're hoping it's a one-year blip. If that happens two years in a row, we've really got to ask what is going on."

Efforts to boost achievement of minority students had mixed results. Initial analysis showed that some schools with high minority enrollments made good progress, but the gap had narrowed in some areas, widened in others and remained constant in others, Marchione said.

The overall scores of white and black males show a performance gap of between 17 and 37 percentage points, depending on the subject and the grade level. In every instance, the white males performed better.

Baltimore County -- 600 square miles of urban areas and farmland -- presents one of the most disparate performance pictures of any school system in the state, said Ronald A. Peiffer, spokesman for the State Education Department.

The result was an overall rise of only two-tenths of a percent this year to a composite score of 44.7 percent of students at satisfactory levels, a statistically insignificant gain after two years of growth.

Marchione said he has put together a team to examine each school's curriculum, reading program, materials and use of technology and make sure they're all operating as they should be.

"Right now my focus is not at the school system as a whole, my focus is school by school, classroom by classroom. That's the only way you can make changes."

Meanwhile, Marchione is under fire from African-American groups to reduce the achievement gap between white students and minorities.

Yesterday, the county's NAACP branch called for his resignation, based on members' analysis of another standardized test, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, that showed the county's black children lagging national norms in every category.

"I plan to stay," Marchione said. "And to continue the course we've set for achievement school by school."

School system analysts pointed out positive trends in the county results yesterday:

The county improved in 11 of 12 performance yardsticks in grades five and eight, with no change in the 12th area.

Thirty-two elementary schools met one or more of the standards in 1996, up from 10 in 1993. Nine of 24 middle schools met one or more standards; middle schools met no goals in 1993.

87 percent of elementary schools and 92 percent of middle schools have improved their composite scores since 1993.

Three middle schools posted composite scores above 70 percent: Dumbarton Middle, 76.8 percent; Sudbrook Magnet Middle, 71.1; and Ridgely Middle, 70.6.

The school system had the lowest dropout rate in the state: 1.49 percent. The attendance rate for grades seven through 12 climbed to the highest point so far -- 93.3 percent.

Language usage and writing scores improved at all three grade levels.

Richard Bavaria, director of curriculum and instruction, said that the schools showing steady gains over three years represented various points on the economic spectrum, among them Holabird, Middle River and Perry Hall middle; and Prettyboy, Gunpowder, Grange and Hebbville elementary.

With four years to go to the deadline -- and not one school yet meeting the standards in every subject and grade -- Marchione acknowledged that the county is unlikely to meet the requirement for every school.

"I'm hoping every school will make it. They probably won't all at zTC the same time, but that's not the goal, the goal is to have growth. But it's a worthy goal."

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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