Howard school officials tend to pat themselves on the back when annual test results are released, because the county's composite scores usually are among the highest in the state.
But the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has reminded the Board of Education that congratulations aren't necessarily in order just yet.
In its annual report card to the school board last night - based on results from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and Maryland Functional Tests - NAACP officials gave the No. 2 school system in the state a grade of F for the continuing dismal scores of African-American students.
Of all 66 schools in the county, NAACP officials felt they could commend only two schools for the performance of their African-American students - Clarksville Middle and Centennial High.
"This is the first time ... that we have been able to make this kind of commendation," said Natalie Woodson, chairwoman of the chapter's education committee. "We have never had any schools across the board in the disaggregated data meet the state standards, or exceed the state standards, in the academic areas, and we are so pleased about this."
School board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said she appreciated the NAACP report and congratulated the two schools that earned high marks. She was the only board member to speak after the organization presented its report card at a board meeting.
The NAACP grades elementary and middle schools by using the state's MSPAP benchmark of 70 percent of students scoring satisfactorily on each of six tests.
But unlike the school system, which combines all scores on all six tests to come up with a school's composite score, the NAACP considers each tested subject individually.
The organization also looks solely at the scores of African-American pupils.
Woodson said the county's use of an overall composite score is "misleading."
"That is what we have been saying for the last seven years," Woodson said. "In doing so, they ignore the standards for each individual subject, and that's what really counts."
At Clarksville Middle School, all African-American eighth-graders who took the MSPAP met or exceeded the state standards for reading, writing, language usage, math, science and social studies.
For high schools, the NAACP looks at what percentage of ninth- and 11th-graders have passed the Maryland Functional Tests in reading, writing and math - each a requirement for graduation.
On the organization's report card, Centennial High School earned an A in all subjects for both grades. "They just did a grand job," Woodson said.
The NAACP has issued a report card since 1993, but only began grading the schools individually in 1999.
Although the system's overall score from the NAACP is an F, Woodson called this year's report card a "breakthrough."
"It is certainly a signal of hope that there has been a breakthrough for our African-American students," Woodson said. "This is the first time we have been able to recognize a school that has no failing grades."
Woodson told board members that she hoped the NAACP report card will be a catalyst for improvement at other schools.
"I think it's important that we pay attention to what we are doing right and, hopefully, we can use that information to spread that throughout the county," she said.