70 by 2000 Howard County: It will take a lot of hard work to reach state's passing goal on MSPAP.

December 11, 1998

SCHOOL OFFICIALS in Howard County know they can't rest on their laurels just because the county continues to lead the state with its test scores in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. It took Howard schools five years to move from 48.7 percent to 60.1 percent of its elementary and middle school students passing the MSPAP tests. The county has only two years to reach the statewide goal of 70 percent passing by the year 2000.

Howard, however, may have a better chance to reach that than any system. The only other jurisdictions with more than half their students scoring satisfactorily on MSPAP are Harford County, 58.3 percent; Carroll County, 56.4; Montgomery County, 55.2; Kent County, 54.7; Calvert County, 53.8; and Frederick County, 53.1.

The statewide average, 44.1 percent, was lowered significantly by Baltimore City's 16.1 percent. Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey correctly pointed out that any jurisdiction's failure is a failure for the entire state. Successful schools must share their best practices with those that are lacking, he said.

That's a good point. Howard schools, for example, may be able to learn something from Harford County. That system ranks 17th the state in per-pupil spending -- $5,946 per student compared with $6,988 in Howard -- yet is getting similar results on MSPAP.

Poverty is among factors that can affect performance, but there are examples that this can be overcome. Two of the three Howard middle schools and the elementary school whose MSPAP scores dropped 10 percent or more have significantly higher percentages in the subsidized meals program for poor families. But some schools with similar percentages receiving free lunches did well on MSPAP.

Finding out the key to that discrepancy in performance may be the clue to Howard County reaching the 70 percent goal.

Pub date: 12/11/98

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