Balto. Co. schools get mix of scores

Elementary results strong, AP participation rises, but math is a concern

`Continue to need to get better'

November 05, 2003|By Sara Neufeld and Jonathan D. Rockoff | Sara Neufeld and Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County school officials reviewed a mixed bag of test results last night - showing strong elementary school scores and a major increase in Advanced Placement exam participation in recent years amid gloomy news of sagging math scores and a persisting minority achievement gap.

Among the most promising news in an annual report with a range of performance data was a 90 percent jump in AP exams taken since 1999 alongside a higher pass rate.

A passing score on an AP exam earns a student credit accepted at many colleges, and schools nationally are struggling to increase access to AP courses and examinations.

Last spring, 2,688 Baltimore County high school students took 5,433 AP exams and had a 71 percent pass rate. In the spring of 1999, when the pass rate was 67 percent, 1,689 students took 2,863 AP exams.

Students can take AP classes and AP exams in several subjects.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said that overall the results show the school system moving in the right direction.

"We're good now, but we continue to need to get better," he said. "If there is a weak area, it is in our middle schools." He noted that a task force is working on doing that.

Forty-eight percent of schools exceeded the national average for participation in the college-entrance exam, the SAT, down from 57 percent last year. Forty-eight percent of schools also exceeded the national average for combined math and verbal scores, down from 61 percent the previous year.

Nevertheless, the average combined score remained higher than the national average: 1034 on a 1600-point scale, compared with the national average of 1026.

In nearly all cases, Baltimore County schools exceeded state goals on standardized tests last year.

Reading scores on the state's new high-stakes assessment tests - the Maryland State Assessment tests - were consistently strong. Sixty-three percent of third-graders, 69 percent of fifth-graders and 60 percent of eighth-graders earned scores in the "proficient" and "advanced" ranges.

But in math, scores declined steadily as students aged. Sixty-six percent of third-graders had proficient or advanced scores, compared with 52 percent of fifth-graders and 40 percent of eighth-graders.

Scores broken down by race showed 73 percent of white children earning proficient and advanced scores in third-grade reading, compared with 48 percent of black children.

The school system is working to hire more highly qualified teachers, especially in math, and assigning them to the schools that need them most, Hairston said. Math teachers are also getting professional development.

The report showed that 88 percent of teachers working in the school system are "highly qualified," but only 58 percent of math teachers meet that standard. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires all teachers be "highly qualified" by the 2005-2006 school year.

School board member Warren C. Hayman expressed grave concern that schools with a large minority achievement gap have high concentrations of teachers who do not meet the definition of highly qualified.

The county school system "does a good job for some students, but it doesn't do a good job for all students," Hayman said.

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