Harford's 47 public schools got a positive report card from the state last week, meeting 11 of the 13 criteria in the 1993 Maryland School Performance Program.
The results were the county's best performance since the standards were set four years ago.
The school system fell short in two areas -- attendance for students in seventh through 12th grades and the dropout rate.
School Superintendent Ray R. Keech was not disappointed, though.
"The school system is moving in the right direction," he said, adding that he is "flat out encouraged by the results."
The county's dropout rate of 3.26 percent was slightly above the state's satisfactory target rate of 3 percent. Only seven of the state's 24 school districts -- Carroll, Howard, Allegany, Calvert, Frederick, Montgomery and Queen Anne's counties -- achieved a satisfactory rating in this category.
"Our goal is absolutely to meet the standard," Dr. Keech said.
Some of the programs the county has in place to achieve this include mentoring, in which teachers or other adults help a "kid at risk," and alternative schooling, which gives students who have been expelled or suspended for long periods the chance to continue their studies.
There is one alternative program in the county at Bel Air High School, but Dr. Keech says he would like to establish another one in Aberdeen.
The county's upper-school attendance rate of 93.1 percent also was just shy of the state's satisfactory target score of 94 percent.
Attendance rates are reported as the percent of students present daily during the September-to-June school year. Excused and unexcused absences are included.
Dr. Keech admits that attendance is important, but he says that the numbers don't tell much about academic achievement. He said he is more concerned about whether students can read and write.
L "And I don't want to encourage kids to come to school sick."
He said that each principal comes up with ideas to help students develop the responsibility to be where they should be, whether it is in school now or at work after they graduate.
"We have all kinds of games up our sleeves," said Dr. Keech, including classroom recognition for highest attendance and coupons for fast-food restaurants. "With ingenuity, we will make the grade and, more important, teach reading, writing and arithmetic," he said.
State schools have until 1996 to meet all the performance goals.
Harford students achieved an excellent rating in seven categories and satisfactory in four areas, compared with two excellent and eight satisfactory ratings last year. Overall, in 1992, the county met 10 of the 13 objectives.
This year, the county got excellent marks in:
* The number of ninth-grade students passing the functional reading, mathematics and writing tests separate.
* The number of 11th-grade students passing the reading and writing tests separately and the number of 11th-graders passing all four functional tests combined -- reading, mathematics, writing and citizenship.
* Grade-school promotions.
The county received satisfactory ratings for:
* The number of students passing the ninth- and 11th-grade functional citizenship tests.
* The number of 11th-graders passing the mathematics test.
* Elementary attendance.
Dr. Keech pointed out that the passing scores are reflected across the board in the county.
"Whether the school has a high socioeconomic level or a low socioeconomic level, programs have been effective in helping all kids in the three Rs, not just a couple of schools but all schools," he said.