Howard County students continue to top the national average on standardized tests that measure students' knowledge in math, language and reading.
More than 80 percent of students in the third and fifth grades who took the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills last spring scored in the high-average or above-average range.
Fifty percent of the students had scores as high as or higher than those projected by another standardized test, the Test of Cognitive Skills.
Of the students whose scores failed to meet projections, nearly a third fell more than 30 points short of what was expected.
Leslie Walker-Bartnick, the school system's testing specialist, presented the test results at yesterday's school board meeting. She said one reason for the discrepancy in actual and anticipate scores is that some students have trouble taking tests. They may have the knowledge the test requires but fail to understand what the question is asking or how to use their knowledge in a multiple-choice format.
"I don't think test-taking per se comes easily for some students," Ms. Walker-Bartnick said.
As a result, teachers will be asked to incorporate various test-taking techniques into their lessons, she said.
"We have to teach how to take the test, because there are too many doors that will shut in their faces if they don't learn the skills," Ms. Walker-Bartnick said.
Among the report's findings:
* Fifth-graders did better than their projected scores in all subjects, but third-graders failed to meet their anticipated scores in reading, on which their average score was one point below their projected 67.
* In language, boys scored below girls, regardless of their ethnicity. Third-grade boys, for example, had an average score of 54, compared with third-grade girls' average score of 63.
* In reading, boys also scored below girls, again regardless of ethnicity. Fifth-grade boys, for example, had an average score of 54, about seven points below the girls' average.
* In math, boys' and girl's scores were comparable in some groups but not in others. Asian-American fifth-graders, boys and girls, achieved the same average score, 88. Black fifth-grade boys averaged 39, 12 points lower than black fifth-grade girls. jTC White fifth-grade boys averaged 76, four points lower than white fifth-grade girls.
* Black and Hispanic students tend to score below county averages regardless of gender. Black students in the above-average and high-average groups continued to score lower than other ethnic groups in the same ranks.
Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin warned against using race as a basis for student achievement, drawing on a recent school system report that showed successful students generally had strong parental support and turned their homework in on time, among other factors.
"Those students who did well in school had comparable characteristics, and race was not one of them," he said. "There's much more to the picture than mean data."
In other matters, the board approved a $5,600 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to give girls more exposure to astronomy, particularly astrophysics. The money would pay for field trips and video and computer programs.
"If you count the number of female astrophysicists in the state, they're very, very few," said Lee Summerville, executive supervisor of the science department.
School officials will create a pilot program at Centennial High School this year and expand it to other schools later.