Students outscore peers in Md. Local MSPAP results improve slightly over last year

57.9% satisfactory or better

Social studies figures for the third grade make the biggest leap

December 12, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Howard County students again outperformed their peers in Maryland on the state's annual achievement exams for schools, but eighth-grade scores dropped in a majority of subject areas for the second year in a row, county school officials announced yesterday.

The overall score for Howard students on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) was slightly better than last year's: 57.9 percent of students achieved a satisfactory or higher on the 1997 tests -- given in the spring -- compared with 56.9 the year before.

Carroll County students scored the closest to Howard with 55.3 percent of students getting at least a satisfactory score. Calvert, Harford and Montgomery counties ranked third, fourth and fifth.

"The most important thing to me is not that we are at the top of the heap statewide, but really the continued progress we see in our schools," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

He was addressing the county school board, which received a report on the MSPAP tests last night. Board members seemed pleased with the results but concerned about the eighth-grade numbers.

Leslie Wilson, head of testing for the county school system, told the board, "Our improvement is very slow, but it is an increase. And it is due to progress in grades three and five. It's the eighth grade that's hanging us up right now."

The MSPAP tests, used by the state to judge how well schools are educating their students, tests third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students in reading, math, social studies, writing, science and language use. Because of a scoring error, eighth-grade writing results had not been compiled as of yesterday, state school officials said.

Of the 17 areas assessed -- six for each grade level, minus eighth-grade writing -- Howard students scored highest or second-highest in the state in 14 categories, and they were in the top five in all categories.

For most grades and in most subject areas, scores rose slightly over last year's, with the biggest gain -- 9.3 percent -- on the third-grade social studies test. This was seen as a recovery from a statewide drop in this subject area last year.

"We didn't take responsibility for [the drop] last year, so we can't [for the increase] now," Wilson said. "I think it was just a blip."

While writing results also dropped 1 percent among third-graders and 3.5 percent among fifth-graders, all other areas in the lower grades showed improvement.

But eighth-graders, whose scores fell in every subject area except math last year, also dropped this year: 7.2 percent in reading, 3.5 percent in language use and 4.3 in science. Eighth-graders did gain slightly in math and social studies.

Wilson said eighth-grade scores have remained fairly steady for several years, but that this year's scores show a "real drop."

"I'm actually a little bit concerned about math," Wilson said. "It stayed the same more or less in the last year or two, but I know that is because we put so much emphasis on reading."

Since 1993 -- the first year MSPAP tests results were released to the public -- Howard schools have improved nine points, or about 19 percent. This remains well below the average improvement statewide of 10 points, or 32 percent.

Howard school spokeswoman Patti Caplan compared the push to improve already-high scores to dieting.

"Those last few pounds are always the hardest," she said. "For us, those last few points are tough because Howard started off higher than most areas."

Overall in Maryland, 41.8 percent of students -- about 16 percent below Howard's scores -- performed satisfactorily or better on the tests. State goals call for 70 percent of students to score satisfactory or better on MSPAP by 2000.

In addition, county schools also have met all 12 of the state's other, more basic performance standards for the sixth consecutive year. The standards include meeting goals for attendance, student dropout rates and the high school performance on the Maryland Functional Tests.

County school offices noted that River Hill High School achieved all excellent ratings in its first year, one of a handful of schools to make that mark. They pointed to results from Phelps Luck Elementary, Talbott Springs Elementary, Clarksville Elementary, Dunloggin Middle and Wilde Lake High School as showing the most improvement.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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