Schools get college feedback State provides performance data on 1991 freshmen


It's a guidance counselor's dream: a way to gauge how well graduating seniors will do in that first, scary year at college.

Concerned about college readiness, the Maryland Higher Education Commission is providing every high school in the state with data on freshman performance.

The first-ever report, broken down by county and high school, describes college entrants in 12 ways, including their grade point averages, the numbers who remain after the first semester, and how many need remedial math, English and reading.

Titled the "Student Outcome and Achievement Report," the study examined the performance of 16,058 students who graduated from Maryland public high schools in 1991 and enrolled that fall in Maryland public colleges and universities.

"They've never had this kind of feedback about how prepared their students are in various areas," said Shaila R. Aery, secretary of higher education. "Down the road, I see high schools using this to change or beef up other aspects of the curriculum."

Missouri is the only other state to compile similar information on high school graduates who go on to college, and does so on a more limited basis, she said.

In general, Dr. Aery said, Maryland public high school graduates appeared to perform about as expected in their freshman year at state schools. "It's average from other data I've seen; it's typical, normal."

For example, the report shows that a large number of students need remedial math, reading and English.

Those rates range from 8 percent of students taking remedial reading at Harford Community College to 89 percent taking remedial math at Hagerstown Junior College.

That pattern is to be expected at community colleges, which have open admissions policies, said Ron Phipps, assistant secretary for planning and academic affairs with the Higher Education Commission.

But the report also shows that nearly one in six public school graduates entering the University of Maryland at College Park require remedial math -- a warning sign for high schools concerned about preparing their students.

Dr. Aery cautioned against using the report to compare school districts, saying it is intended as a tool that local educators can use in fine-tuning their college-prep programs.

The report lists no statewide grade point average. Instead, it focuses on how well students from specific schools and districts performed when they enrolled at particular institutions.

Though someone could use the data to compute "average" performance, "that is of absolutely no value," said Dr. Aery, citing wide variations in different institutions standards and in programs.

A high school administrator would be far more interested in seeing how individual students fared at particular schools, she said.

For those who insist on comparisons, the data can be used to show how the performance of graduates from different school districts vary. For example, the Associated Press reports that freshmen from Baltimore City attending four-year colleges had a grade point average of 2.17 compared with 2.59 for Montgomery County grads; 2.58, for Anne Arundel; and 2.51, for Howard.

The report also shows wide differences in student performance by institution and region.

Public school graduates at Baltimore City Community College, for example, posted a first-year grade point average of 1.76, the lowest of any state institution, while freshmen at St. Mary's College of Maryland had 2.97, the highest.

Among other findings:

* Baltimore City high school graduates remained after the first semester at rates similar to those of students from other jurisdictions.

* A larger percentage of students from the Lower Shore attend four-year institutions than community colleges, in contrast to the pattern elsewhere in the state.

* Students from Western Maryland take remedial math at a higher rate than other students.

* The Upper Shore has the smallest percentage of high school graduates attending state institutions.

But principals will get specifics, not generalities. For example, Baltimore's Patterson High School gets facts on how its graduates do at each institution they attend.

Educators will welcome that, said Margaret Hsieh, assistant principal at Patterson. "You look at it and you adjust the program as far as what the kids needs are," said Ms. Hsieh. "That kind of data does support your curriculum."

But she warned that in cash-poor school districts, "you have limited staffing and you have classes of 40, instead of 30. You know kids are going to be lost in the cracks."

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