Inconclusive results City schools: Latest tests underscore achievement gaps but should be treated with caution.

September 12, 1998

SO MANY hopes were attached to last year's state-mandated overhaul of the Baltimore City public schools that all student achievement tests are scrutinized eagerly for any signs of turnaround. That's why palpable disappointment followed the release of the latest scores from a twice-a-year reading and math test.

Instead of showing system-wide progress, the scores suggest that while some pupils are making headway, many others are not. The results are so lacking in consistency that no broad judgment can be made about the city school system other than to say it is still undeperforming badly.

This is frustrating news, of course. But an educational turnaround, even in the best of circumstances, takes time. And conditions in the city's public schools are far from ideal.

One example: Students' home lives are so volatile that an average of 40 percent of them change schools within a given academic year. Aside from causing emotional tension and educational adjustments, this high level of transience complicates efforts to accurately measure achievement.

Testing should become easier now that most elementary schools are using the same textbooks for reading. The schools are also moving toward adopting standard texts for math. If the Baltimore schools fail to show system-wide improvement in another year, then something is wrong with the reforms now under way. For the time being, teachers and students must do their utmost to make the reforms work.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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