Students hit plateau on MSPAP test Overall achievement remains unchanged from last year

Not the gains expected

Teacher-student ratio ranks second worst in Maryland

December 12, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The state's annual report card on schools shows Carroll hitting a plateau in student achievement, while lagging further in financial support for schools -- including the second-to-worst teacher-student ratio in the state.

Carroll also dropped in rank from 16th to 20th in spending per pupil out of 23 counties and Baltimore City -- the city spends $324 more per child than Carroll, which spends $5,828.

"Keep the two in mind -- what are our results, and what are we investing in education?" said Superintendent Brian Lockard.

The county retains its second-place showing behind the much wealthier Howard County in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test scores. Carroll's composite score -- a compression of the scores across all the three grades -- is 55.3, compared with 57.9 for Howard.

"This has been, of all the years, the most intriguing," said Gary Dunkleberger, assistant superintendent. "At first blush, we did not make the kind of gains we expected.

"But when you get beyond that, we fared well," he said.

Several gains were recorded in third and fifth grades, tempered by declines in all subject areas among eighth-graders. But the eighth-graders' scores continue to be closer to meeting state standards than in the lower grades, and eighth-grade scores have declined statewide this year.

Dunkleberger credited a devoted staff for coaxing gains in student achievement despite diminishing resources.

"We're asking fewer people to do more and more, with less," Dunkleberger said. "We have continually been confronted with the choice of air or water."

The school board and administration have been using that air-or-water metaphor for at least five years, but student performance has continued to increase.

Carroll's strong showing with conservative spending has been a source of pride to county leaders.

But this is the first year Carroll has had no increase in its state report card composite score, which provides schools and counties with a simple figure to make sure student performance is going in the right direction -- up.

The report was jarring to Lori Tanner, PTA president at Carrolltowne Elementary School and a mother of four who attended yesterday's announcement of the scores.

Parents are used to hearing about how well Carroll does despite spending less than its neighboring counties, she said. But having the second-worst teacher-student ratio is a warning.

"We get lulled into complacency," Tanner said. "I can guarantee when I take this report to my PTA, [parents will say] we're not spending enough on our students. We're getting by on a shoestring."

Teachers are doing as much as they can already, she said.

"My child is in a second-grade class where the teacher is teaching two different curriculums because some of them need more than second grade is offering," Tanner said. "It's just not fair."

There were bright spots in the report, the meat of which is the scores on tests taken by third-, fifth- and eighth-graders.

Carroll's third-graders made significant gains in language arts and social studies, and some gains in every other area except writing. As a group, they are the third-highest scoring statewide.

Fifth-grade scores here were first in the state in writing. Scores also increased in language, math and science. In general, Carroll fifth-graders were the second-highest scorers statewide.

Carroll's eighth-graders were second-highest scoring statewide overall, even though they declined in all areas. Statewide, eighth-graders declined in all areas except math and social studies.

But students in eighth grade continue to be the ones closest to meeting the state standards of having at least 70 percent of students score a satisfactory or better on each subject area of the test.

Those goals were meant to be reached by 2000, but even state officials acknowledge it isn't likely. Still, they defended the target as one that gives school systems a high standard for which to aim.

Dunkleberger also agreed the high standard is justified. Several schools have met standards in one or more categories, and 52 schools have achieved a composite score of 70 percent or better satisfactory. None of those 52 is in Carroll County. Four of them are in How- ard, 16 are in Baltimore County, two are in Frederick County and 20 are in Montgomery County.

Unlike Montgomery and Baltimore counties, Carroll has more often shown less disparity between school scores. Although those larger counties have high-achieving schools in wealthier neighborhoods, the scores from some poorer areas have affected the overall county average.

Experts often link student achievement to income and education level of the parents, which gives the county that always is ahead of Carroll a distinct advantage. According to the 1990 census, 26.6 percent of Howard County residents have a bachelor's degree -- compared with 12.6 percent in Carroll.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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