Test scores hold steady

Schools take look at trouble spots on basic skills exams

June 24, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Howard County pupils' scores on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills remained fairly stable this year, and the county once again scored 23 percentile points above the national norm.

Taken in the spring, the CTBS tests second-, fourth-, sixth- and ninth-graders in reading, language and math. Overall, Howard County scored in the 73rd percentile -- same as last year -- with the 50th percentile representing the national norm.

While the big picture looks good, school officials are homing in on some trouble spots, such as a "notable" drop in math scores between grades four and six. There is also lingering concern about the the overall test scores of African-American and Hispanic pupils, which lag behind those of Asian and white pupils.

"We're always striving to do better," said testing coordinator Leslie A. Wilson. "One of the things that I'll do is try to point out where we're weak because that's obviously the place to fix if we want to get better."

Scores for other school districts won't be available until later this year.

According to a report given to the school board this week, overall CTBS scores have been steady since 1997. However, while scores generally dropped in every content area between fourth and sixth grade, the drops in math are particularly large.

For example, scores in math from fourth to sixth grade fell from the 72nd percentile to the 63rd in 1999.

A more detailed look at this year's scores revealed a weakness in math computation among children between fourth and sixth grade.

In class, children are often focusing on math concepts instead of calculation, Wilson said, and that weakness is revealed in test questions that involve such skills as division without use of a calculator.

"We're trying to teach kids the math concepts. Sometimes in doing that, there's not as much time to practice the actual operations," Wilson said. "That doesn't mean they're not supposed to learn that."

"When it comes down to actually sitting down and calculating by hand, that's where they're probably not as strong as they could be," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "It doesn't mean the kids can't do it, they're just not used to that exercise."

One encouraging note is that most children in the county's focus schools -- those that receive extra resources because of lower performance -- scored at the national norm, according to CTBS data, Caplan said.

"We're real happy with the scores," Wilson said. "The kids did really well."

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