Anne Arundel school chief, blacks discuss low test scores, high rate of suspensions Leaders say teachers, poverty among obstacles

November 13, 1998|By Kris Antonelli and TaNoah Morgan | Kris Antonelli and TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham called in parents, teachers and leaders in the African-American community last night to help her search for ways to boost grades and drop high discipline and suspension rates for black students.

About 30 African-Americans -- including Annapolis police Chief Joseph Johnson and county NAACP President Gerald Stansbury answered Parham's invitation to a meeting, prompted by a state report that shows black students have lower test scores, worse attendance and higher dropout rates than their white classmates. In Anne Arundel County, more black students than white were suspended last year, though they make up a much smaller part of total enrollment.

"Some people have asked me why I am concerned, that our numbers are the same as everywhere else in the country," Parham told the group assembled in the cafeteria at school headquarters on Riva Road. "But there is a difference. This is my school system, and I live here."

Parham, the system's first African-American superintendent, asked the group to meet regularly and to commit to working with students.

State Deputy Superintendent A. Skip Sanders suggested that poverty as well as race, ethnicity and gender issues contribute to low achievement among minorities.

Some participants suggested poor teaching also was to blame, especially white teachers who are afraid of black students.

"If they are afraid to teach them, to touch them or to love them, then how can they be effective?" asked parent Nancy Gist.

Lewis Bracy, a Severn community activist, agreed with Parham that it was crucial to begin working on the problem and he urged parents to get involved. "We have to be honest. We have to wake up black people. We have to address that in Anne Arundel County. The ones that are failing the most are black males.

"Black males are failing and black females are right behind them. Go to any prison, and there are all these black men, and the black women are there because they followed some dumb man there," Bracy said.

In the 1996-1997 school year, 43.3 percent of students enrolled in Maryland's public schools were minorities. Blacks were the largest minority, at slightly more than one-third of the state's students. Black students accounted 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 earning a satisfactory score. Black males were the lowest-scoring group, with 14.7 percent earning a satisfactory score. In Anne Arundel County, of 534 students expelled during the 1997-1998 school year, 203, or 38 percent, were black. Only 18 percent of the school population is black.

That report is considered disappointing since Parham agreed in 1993 to a federal plan to prevent racial bias in discipline cases. The agreement came after the Anne Arundel County Coalition of Tenants filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, claiming bias in the suspensions and expulsions of black students.

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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