Balto. Co. MSPAP results mixed Scores improve at elementaries

middle schools slip

December 12, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's third-graders and fifth-graders continued to improve their performance on Maryland's annual academic exams this year, but middle school students -- mirroring a dismal showing by eighth-graders statewide -- slipped slightly, county educators announced yesterday.

The county's school-by-school results on the 1998 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program show that almost three-quarters of Baltimore County's 100 elementary schools -- but fewer than half of its 26 middle schools -- improved in 1998 over 1997.

Elementary students posted some of their biggest gains in reading and writing, which reflects the school system's recent focus on improving instruction in those areas, educators said.

"I'm pleased with the results and the progress we're making," said Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione. "But I know there is still a lot farther to go."

For the second year in a row, Baltimore County students met the state standards in attendance, dropout rates and the Maryland Functional Tests, which measure basic skills required for high school graduation.

The Baltimore, Carroll and Howard county systems were the only ones to meet those standards.

"We believe this is a breakthrough" because the district did not slip in any of the 12 categories, said Ronald S. Thomas, assistant to the superintendent for educational accountability.

School officials said they are not troubled by a slight increase in the high school dropout rate -- from 1.25 percent in 1997 to 2.1 percent in 1998 -- because it remained far below the state's dropout rate of 4 percent. "I'll stand up and shout hurray with 2 percent every time," Marchione said.

School officials remained concerned about the continued gap between the performances of black students and white students. Marchione is appointing a task force on minority achievement.

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

The tests, given each spring, were developed with participation by the state's business community and have prompted all of Maryland's schools to revamp curricula and teaching strategies.

On the MSPAP, a school is deemed to have met a state standard when at least 70 percent of its students achieve a satisfactory score in that content area.

In 1993, 10 county elementary schools and no middle schools met one or more standards. Thirty-seven elementary schools and eight middle schools did so on the 1998 exams.

Although the state announced the overall scores for each district at a news conference this week, school systems have two weeks to release the reports for their individual schools.

Baltimore County educators were particularly pleased yesterday with the 7.8-point jump, to 47 percent, in the proportion of third-graders getting a satisfactory score in reading. Fifth-graders improved 4.2 points, to 44.9 percent.

The gains in the MSPAP are similar to improvements made by Baltimore County's first- and second-graders last year on a different set of exams that judge basic reading skills.

"There is substantial growth in the areas we focused on -- reading and writing at the primary level," said Thomas. "We're seeing some payoff for what we've been doing."

At Deer Park Elementary School -- where third-grade reading scores have nearly doubled since 1994, to 47.4 percent -- Principal Beth Strauss credited her teachers' willingness to embrace the new style of instruction.

"We have a committed and dedicated staff willing to relearn their craft," said Strauss. Deer Park's overall MSPAP score has steadily increased, from 27 percent of students with a satisfactory score in 1993 to 57 percent in 1998.

In announcing the test scores yesterday, county school officials noted that four elementary schools -- Fort Garrison, Fullerton, Sparks and Timonium -- met all six MSPAP third-grade standards. Two elementary schools, Jacksonville and Pinewood, met all six MSPAP fifth-grade standards.

On the eighth-grade exams, Sudbrook Magnet Middle School's students met five of the six standards, and students at Hereford, Pine Grove and Ridgely middle schools met four of the standards.

"There's an old saying in schools: 'I taught it, they didn't get it,' " said Perry Hall Middle School Principal Rick Archambault, whose school's overall score has improved 31.4 percentage points since 1993, to 68 percent achieving a satisfactory score in 1998. "That's not the way we teach anymore. We make sure every child gets it."

Still, the county's overall eighth-grade performance declined slightly this year, and educators were unable to explain why. Marchione pledged to do a "school-by-school analysis" of the eighth-grade drop.

Baltimore County elementary schools

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