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The rest of the story . . .


And now, as radio commentator Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story.

State school superintendent Nancy Grasmick yesterday released 1992 scores on a new and more challenging set of state performance tests for students. Today, we'll get a better idea of how she and her staff interpret those scores. They will tell the state Board of Education what standards schools ought to meet in terms of test results and what the state should do about schools which fall well below standards.

Standards to be proposed today will help put the scores released yesterday in context. The regulations will show how the state plans to fix schools and school systems which are unable to fix themselves. These proposals must undergo a hearing and approval process lasting several months. While the standards would not take effect until 1996, the process of aggressive state involvement in non-performing schools could begin as early as this fall.

Both are key steps toward school improvement in Maryland. They follow other moves taken over the last few years stemming from the work of the state's Commission on School Performance (known as the Sondheim Commission for its chairman, Walter Sondheim Jr.).

First, the state set detailed standards for what students need to know and be able to do. It began developing tests which get vTC beyond the old multiple-choice exams that compare students to a sample group. The new tests, written and scored by Maryland teachers, are designed to measure students in thinking and problem-solving.

Even without the benefit of performance standards against which to judge the results released yesterday, it is clear that Maryland students are doing very poorly at mastering the complex skills they will need for the next century.

The scores are reported in five levels. Only a quarter to a third of the students (the percentage varies with the grade and subject tested) scored at Level 3 or above, described in the state's press release as "demonstrating much of the knowledge, and the skills and thinking processes required." Only a tiny fraction of the students -- 3 percent or less at most grade levels and subjects -- scored at the Level 2. And in no case did even 1 percent achieve Level 1, the highest mastery.

In simple terms, a third of Maryland's students are performing at a barely adequate level, a third are somewhat below that, and a third are at rock-bottom. Obviously, that's not good enough. So it's important today that Dr. Grasmick tell us what, in her view, is good enough, and what she's going to do to make that happen.

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