Minority pupils' poor marks publicized Officials hope new report draws attention to 'grievous situation'

September 24, 1998|By Mary Maushard and Mike Bowler | Mary Maushard and Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland educators made public the abysmal performance of many of the state's minority students yesterday, offering the low levels of achievement, attendance and graduation as a first step toward "rectifying a grievous situation that has persisted for too long."

The Maryland State Board of Education listened for more than two hours as educators and community leaders laid out the problem and hinted at ways to overcome the statewide disparities between the performance of white and Asian students and that of all other groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

"You cannot cure a problem unless you recognize it. This is the first attempt to recognize the mammoth problem we have," said Ella White Campbell, chairman of the Baltimore County African American Advisory Council to the schools there.

The report is Maryland's first compilation of statewide data -- which shows test scores and other indicators of school performance by gender and race -- and the only comprehensive look at minority performance in any state, according to a survey by the state education department.

"The enrollment of minority and poor students is rising. The achievement gaps are continuing," said Barbara Dezmon, a Baltimore County schools administrator and the chairman of the committee that compiled "Minority Achievement in Maryland: The State of the State."

In the 1996-97 school year, 43.3 percent of students enrolled in Maryland's public schools were members of minorities. Blacks were the largest minority, at slightly more than one-third of the state's students. Black students, however, account for more than half of high school dropouts in the state, as well as more than half of student suspensions.

Large gaps also exist in test scores. On the 1997 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, Asian females posted the highest scores, with 59.2 percent. Black males were the lowest-scoring group, with 14.7 earning a satisfactory score. Similar disparities were evident on all tests in elementary and secondary schools.

The report includes 13 broad recommendations for eliminating the gaps, but its greatest value, board members agree, is as a rallying cry for change.

The board addressed another statewide need: qualified teachers. After the release of the annual teacher staffing report, the board declared Baltimore City and Prince George's County to be in critical need of teachers because of their high number of noncertified teachers. Those are also the districts with the highest numbers of minority students, according to the achievement report.

By declaring shortages in these districts, the state department is enabling teachers who go to work there to qualify for deferments, and even cancellation, of student loans through a ,, federal teacher-incentive program.

Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick gave the board a peek at her list of incentives for teachers that she will formally propose to the board next month: tax cuts, stipends for teachers who are nationally certified, premium salaries for teachers in critical areas, and a marketing campaign to sell teaching as a career.

While Grasmick and the board grappled with teacher shortages, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey was seven floors below on Baltimore Street proposing her $4 million initiative for recruiting teachers.

Sauerbrey's proposal, which she calls "Teach Maryland," would provide four-year, tuition-free grants to 1,000 promising college students committed to teach in Maryland. She also proposed strengthening efforts to induce mid-career professionals to switch to teaching, and she suggested, as did Grasmick, sweetening the salaries of teachers in fields of critical shortage, such as math, science and special education.

To pay for her initiatives, Sauerbrey suggested abolishing the 40-year-old, $9 million legislative scholarship program, under which state senators and delegates dole out college scholarships to constituents.

She said she had consistently opposed the one-of-a-kind legislative program and had stopped accepting the money during her last year as a state delegate.

It was Sauerbrey's second education pronouncement in as many days. On Tuesday, the candidate proposed raising standards in teacher education.

Campaigning in Annapolis, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said Sauerbrey is duplicating his initiatives. "She is joining us a little late, but I welcome the support," he said.

Achievement disparities

Large disparities continue between the performance of white and Asian students and that of African-American, Hispanic and Native American pupils in Maryland schools. This gap is seen in the scores of students on the 1997 third-grade reading test of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Student group .................... Percent scoring satisfactory

Asian females .................... 59.2%

White females .................... 52.3%

Asian males ...................... 48.8%

White males ...................... 42.6%

Native American females .......... 34.6%

Hispanic females ................. 33.1%

Native American males ............ 33.0%

Hispanic males ................... 27.2%

Black females .................... 22.1%

Black males ...................... 14.7%

SOURCE: Maryland State Department of Education

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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