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County students top state average

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carroll County schools are moving closer to the goals of the most elaborate and ambitious of state testing programs, the Maryland School Performance and Assessment Program.

"We feel good about the results," said Judith Backes, testing supervisor for the schools.

On both ends, Carroll students did better than the state average: more students making it into the highest of five levels and fewer in the lowest of levels.

While many of the county's 19 elementary schools, such as Spring Garden and Carrolltowne, had more than half their students doing at least satisfactorily on the tests, other schools have only about one-fourth of their students doing that well.

The state goal is to have 70 percent of students in each school scoring satisfactory or better by 1996, and 95 percent of students scoring that well by 2000.

Dr. Backes said the scores are one factor that teachers and administrators in each school will use to set a plan for improvement, and some schools will need more help

than others.

Still, she said, she believes that all the schools eventually can reach the state goal, although perhaps not all of them by 2000.

"I believe in the concept that all students can learn, and the state has that expectation," Dr. Backes said.

"You have to believe that all kids can learn; otherwise you write off a whole segment of the population."

The tests don't provide individual scores for students, none of whom takes the whole test.

The program instead is supposed to measure how well a school is teaching math, reading, science and social studies.

Children in third, fifth and eighth grades take the tests, commonly called the CRTs for "criterion reference tests."

This week's results are for testing done in May 1993.

That no school in the county met all the standards in all subject areas was not discouraging, Dr. Backes said, because the standards are deliberately set high by the state as a goal for

2000.

Very few schools in the state met the standards in all areas, said Ronald Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education.

He said he did not yet have the number of schools or their names. Data are still being collected, he said.

In Carroll County, one school has met the standard in one subject area and grade level.

At Spring Garden Elementary, 71 percent of fifth-graders scored at satisfactory or better in math.

Countywide, Carroll schools made a better showing in fifth-grade math than in other areas.

In addition to Spring Garden, another 10 of the 19 elementaries scored satisfactory or better for fifth-grade math.

In third grade, four Carroll elementaries -- Carrolltowne, Mechanicsville, Westminster and Eldersburg -- had at least half their students score satisfactory or better in at least one subject area.

In eighth grade, five of Carroll's seven middle schools had at least half their students meet that standard, scoring satisfactory or better in at least one subject.

Dr. Backes said school administrators and teachers are just beginning to get the results to make use of them.

School improvement teams in each building will analyze the information along with other testing programs, such as the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

"We have a lot to learn not only on how to write these tests, but also how to interpret these tests," Dr. Backes said.

Dorothy Mangle, supervisor of elementary education, said schools will get more detailed information later.

In math, teachers can learn how their students did in specific categories, such as estimation, measurement or problem-solving.

The "CRTs" require students to apply knowledge to answer questions. For example, a math problem asks students to arrange 36 small square tables to seat exactly 20 people, and to map out the possibilities on graph paper.

Instead of filling in little bubbles with No. 2 pencils, children often work together in groups the way they might during class, then go back to their test booklets to answer questions about the task.

Many of the questions ask students to explain their answers, and the explanations are scored for clear communication.

One answer might get a double score, such as for social studies and reading.

Mrs. Mangle yesterday guessed that Spring Garden's strong showing in fifth-grade math could be related to one of the fifth-grade teachers, Isabella Litchka, who is active at the state level in the school assessment and improvement program.

"I think she has had an impact across that grade level," by collaborating with fellow fifth-grade teachers at the school, Mrs. Mangle said.

Mr. Peiffer said schools could get more detailed information Mrs. Mangle is awaiting within two weeks.

"Carroll County typically has done better than many of the other school systems on our MSPAP," said Mr. Peiffer.

"I haven't seen a county-by-county breakout, [but] based on their track record, we would not be surprised to find they did very well."

Howard County

Howard school officials postponed the release of their scores yesterday when they found out that scorers contracted by the state had used an incorrect scale to rank the students' raw scores in the language usage category, according to Leslie Walker-Bartnick, the school system's assessment specialist.

Howard officials had included those language scores in a bound packet, along with all the other results, including school-by-school scores and ethnic and gender breakdown.

They decided to postpone release of all the information and re-do the packet.

Baltimore County

Nine of Baltimore County's 94 elementary schools reached the standard for satisfactory performance in at least one subject.

None of the county's 25 middle schools, however, got a satisfactory score in any area.

Slightly more than 3 percent of the county's third grades met one of more of the standards, while 2.1 percent met two or more standards and 1.1 percent met three or four standards.

For fifth grades, 8.5 percent of the schools met one or more standards; 5.3 percent, two, and 2.1 percent, three or four.

In third grade, three schools scored satisfactorily in math, one in science and two in socials studies.

Fifth-graders in eight schools did well in math, with four schools getting satisfactory scores in science and three in social studies.

Baltimore County took a "hard-line approach" to reporting its scores, said Paul Mazza, the system's director of student evaluations, because in this type of testing "the only thing that counts is whether you meet the standard."

All the county schools meeting the state standards are "traditionally high-scoring schools," said Dr. Mazza.

They are also all in high socioeconomic areas, mostly in the central part of the county.

Baltimore City

The city schools released their scores in number of students achieving each proficiency level and made no attempt to determine how many schools achieved a "satisfactory" ranking.

In all grades and subjects, however, the majority of students scored at the two lowest levels. For instance, more than 91 percent of the third-graders taking the test scored unsatisfactorily.

About 8 percent reached Level 3, one-tenth of 1 percent at Level 2 and none at the highest level.

It was not much different for the city's fifth-graders: 86.8 percent scored at the lowest levels; 12.7 percent in Level 3; half of 1 percent of the students at Level 2 and none at Level 1.

More than 93 percent of the city's eighth-graders scored in the lowest two levels, with 6.4 percent making Level 3 and two-tenths of a percent reaching Level 2.

"We're not meeting the standards because the testing is way ahead of the teaching," said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"The process is very much backward. What it does is just make the teachers and the kids feel like, 'What's the use? We'll never be able to do anything.' It's ridiculous."

Anne Arundel County

None of the 17 Anne Arundel County middle schools met the state standard, and more than half the 76 elementary schools are either far or very far from those skill levels.

Yet school administrators were encouraged by the fact even a small number of elementary schools are either close to meeting those standards or, in a few cases, met them in one or more subjects.

"This is part of a plan to overhaul our curriculum -- to change what we teach and how. It's a slow process," said Nancy Jane Adams, a spokeswoman for the county school system.

"You can't just say to a teacher, 'Here's the goal, now do it.' "

A list of schools that were far or very far from reaching the $H minimum standards for the revised state test was not available, although school officials provided a list of schools that met or were approaching the standards.

School officials said they were proud of the fact that third-graders at Benfield Elementary met state state standards in math, science and social studies.

Reading test results were not measured for third-graders.

Overall, 11 elementary schools met one or more of the state standards set for fifth-graders, and five met two or more.

Among middle schools, only eighth-graders at six schools had test scores approaching the state's minimum standard in math.

No middle school had students approaching state standards in reading or social studies. Science skills were not measured for eighth-graders, Ms. Adams said.

Harford County

Harford's students scored better than the state average, but students at only one school received the top rating: Ring Factory Elementary's fifth grade scored excellent in math.

None of the county's schools met the fifth-grade standard for social studies, though Bel Air, Youth's Benefit and Ring Factory came close.

None of the county's seven middle schools met the eighth-grade standard or even came close for social studies and reading. However, four schools approached the standard for math.

Two of the county's 22 elementary schools reached satisfactory levels in third-grade math, and four came close to meeting the standard.

In fifth-grade math, one scored an excellent, three were ranked satisfactory, and 10 schools approached the standard.

"What these tests do tell us is where we need to improve teaching methods so that students can do even better," said Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman.

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