Balto. County hails MSPAP test results Student scores move district's rank in state from 13th to 8th

Better teaching credited

Number of schools up to standard nearly quadruples since 1993

December 19, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's emphasis on better teaching led to the school district's big gains on the state's annual progress report -- the largest increase in the Baltimore area -- county educators said yesterday.

The number of elementary and middle schools that met at least one standard has nearly quadrupled to 38 since 1993, officials said as they released school-by-school results for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

"We're not just celebrating test scores," said Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione. "We're celebrating the fact that our students are learning more in Baltimore County and demonstrating that through their performance on state assessments."

In all, the county improved its ranking on the set of statewide school improvement tests, moving from 13th among Maryland's 24 districts to eighth. Reading scores improved for third-, fifth- and eighth-graders. The county has 100 elementary and 26 middle schools.

For the first time, Baltimore County high school students met the state standards in all areas of the Maryland Functional Tests -- a series of exams on basic skills required for graduation. The county also had the lowest high school dropout rate in the state.

"We've had our focus on instruction, and we've made sure that principals are focusing on their roles as instructional leaders," Marchione said.

The MSPAP is intended to assess the thinking skills of third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in reading, math, social studies, science, writing and language. It asks students, often in groups, to apply basic skills to real problems.

The tests -- given each spring -- were developed with participation by the state's business community and have prompted many school systems to revamp curricula and teaching strategies.

Although the state announced the overall scores for each district at a news conference last week, school systems had two weeks to release the report cards for their schools.

Yesterday, Baltimore County officials hailed the results.

"You can slice up the scores many ways, but I think they show steady growth in our schools," said Ronald S. Thomas, executive director of educational accountability. "Our focus on improving instruction is really paying off."

Top-performing schools recognized by county educators included Riderwood, Fort Garrison and Timonium elementaries, and Dumbarton, Hereford, Pikesville and Sudbrook middle schools. The elementaries met at least nine of 12 MSPAP standards; the middle schools met four of five.

Overall, 47.7 percent of Baltimore County students scored satisfactory or better on the 1997 MSPAP, a gain of 3 percentage points from last year and almost 6 percentage points higher than the state average.

The gains have come in fits and starts. About three-quarters of the county's elementary schools improved from last year, but 14 of 26 middle schools improved overall performance.

Over the past three years, only a quarter of the county's elementary and middle schools increased their scores every year.

But county educators cited the overall upward trend since 1993. They were particularly pleased with the growing number of schools approaching state standards and the declining number of low-performing schools.

The state's goal is for 70 percent of students at a school to score satisfactory or better. Sixteen county elementary and middle schools had an overall score of 70 percent or higher in 1997, compared with one in 1993 and seven last year.

On the 1997 exams, 51 elementary and middle schools had overall test scores of at least 50 percent -- the state's measure of a school's being "at or approaching standards." In 1993, only 19 schools met that standard.

The MSPAP scores at six elementary schools have improved more than 25 percentage points since 1993: Fullerton, Grange, Gunpowder, Pine Grove, Prettyboy and Timonium. The two middle schools with the biggest gains since 1993 are Perry Hall and Pikesville, 30.2 percentage points and 29.8 percentage points, respectively.

Meanwhile, the number of schools in which fewer than 30 percent of students scored satisfactory has dropped from 50 schools in 1993 to 24 schools in 1997.

"The students are learning the skills that they're going to need for the rest of their lives," said Dundalk Middle School Principal Frank Passaro.

Until spring, Passaro was principal of Holabird Middle School -- a school that increased its MSPAP results from 29.3 percent of students scoring satisfactory in 1993 to 50.9 percent in 1997.

"We concentrated on good instruction, focusing particularly on reading and writing," Passaro said.

At Bedford Elementary School in the Pikesville area -- a school in which 41 percent of children come from low-income families -- Principal Barbara Clark said the focus on improving instruction was accompanied by two new ways of organizing the school.

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