Schools chief lays out goals

Smith's ambitious plan to guide next five years

Includes more AP classes, SATs

Parent worries standards will be too high for some

Anne Arundel

August 30, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Setting a high bar for himself and Anne Arundel school students, Superintendent Eric J. Smith laid out yesterday a series of ambitious goals to guide the school system over the next five years.

Smith aims to more than double the percentage of students who pass algebra I in eighth grade, as well as significantly increase the number of students who take the SAT test and college-level classes. He also pledged that 85 percent of students will be performing at the "proficient" level in reading, writing and math by 2007.

"You don't just put out a goal and hope it happens and willy-nilly go toward it," said Smith, who's entering his third month. "We will take these goals very, very seriously."

The school board will consider the goals at its meeting next Wednesday. Progress toward the goals will be the basis for Smith's annual $20,000 performance bonus, which is in addition to his $197,000 salary.

Also yesterday, Smith said that all high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors will take the Preliminary-SAT, or PSAT, in October in an effort to identify students capable of taking college-level classes next school year.

The superintendent also met with high school principals yesterday to explain his idea for ramping up the number of Advanced Placement classes offered by all county high schools.

Smith set these goals to be met by 2007:

Eighty-five percent of pupils in grades 2, 4, 6, and 8 will be performing at the "proficient" level in reading, math and writing, as measured by a new state test to be released this year.

On last year's state test, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, just 46.6 percent of county pupils scored satisfactory.

Forty-five percent of eighth-graders will enroll in and successfully complete algebra I. Last school year, 20 percent of county eighth-graders passed the course.

Forty percent of graduating students will complete at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, with 70 percent of those students passing the course exam. For the class that graduated this year, 15 percent took an AP course and 76 percent of those students received a passing score.

Seventy-five percent of students will take the SAT. Last year, 54 percent of county seniors took the SAT, and the average composite score was 1048. Smith aims to increase that average to 1100 by 2007. African-American students scored a composite score of 876, a 37-point decline from two years ago - and more than 200 points below white students. Smith aims to close that gap to less than 100 points.

Twenty percent of high school juniors will compete in extra-curricular activities on a regional, state or national level. This does not include athletics. Last year, 12 percent of juniors competed in such groups.

Ninety percent of special education students will earn a Maryland high school diploma. Last year, 86 percent did.

The goals were distributed to members of the school board yesterday, who said they have faith that Smith can lead the system to accomplish a challenging mission.

"They're most definitely attainable," said school board president Michael J. McNelly. "People know the possibility exists to really do some fantastic things for the children of Anne Arundel County. I'm really excited."

But some parents yesterday expressed concern that in his bid to boost the numbers, Smith would be pushing students into courses they're not ready for. And they're worried that tough courses will be "dumbed down" to increase the passing rates.

"I'm afraid that we're going to see a lot of kids put in classes that are inappropriate for them," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, a Severna Park parent and founder of the Coalition for Balanced Excellence in Education. "The last thing we need to do is demoralize them."

But Smith says students are ready for the challenging courses, and promises to set up "specific structural support" for students who want to take the courses but may need help.

"The kids will definitely step up to the challenge beyond our wildest dreams," he said.

In an unusual move, Smith said yesterday that all high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors would take the PSAT this fall. The results of that test will be fed into a computer program that will crunch the numbers and produce a report for each student that predicts which AP classes they'll succeed at.

Those results will be sent home to parents, who Smith expects will encourage their children to take the advanced classes, and to guidance counselors, who will be asked to set challenging course schedules.

Beyond that, Smith is establishing a certification process to produce "AP-certified high schools."

To earn certification, a high school would have to offer at least 12 core AP courses as well as several others in other fields. And the school's AP teachers would have to be trained by the College Board, which administers the AP exams.

Yesterday, the College Board released the county's AP scores for this past spring. Some 1,831 Anne Arundel students took a total of 3,108 exams - almost double the number of exams taken five years ago.

The passing rate - 76 percent - was up 4 points compared with last year.

A score of 3 or higher on the test is considered passing.

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