While some schools shone, Baltimore's school system overall logged no significant change in its performance on the state critical-thinking tests given in May.
On average, 13.5 percent of Baltimore third-, fifth- and eighth-graders earned satisfactory scores on the tests, down from 13.8 percent last year, state officials said yesterday as they released the annual report card.
That average is based on the proportion of students from all three grades achieving satisfactory scores on tests in six subject areas.
The one-year decline is so slim that it can be interpreted as no change, officials said.
However slight, the decline is dismaying for the city's schools, the lowest-ranking among the state's 24 school systems, which ballyhooed as a turnaround the incremental improvements in test scores that its students had shown since 1993.
The number of city students earning satisfactory scores has increased from 10.4 percent to 13.5 percent since 1993, the first year that the state officially used the tests as a measure of school quality. That is low enough to cause concern.
"We need to dig into the scores, to find the clues that tell us what changes to make in curriculum and instruction, " said Zelda J. Holcomb, the city's chief of educational accountability.
Embedded in the average citywide scores is at least one story of progress, she said: The city's preliminary analysis suggests that schools identified in the past as the worst performers made greater strides last year than the schools overall did.
Those schools benefited as they endured increased local scrutiny and despite limited resources, and in some cases while undergoing reorganizations ordered by the state, Holcomb said.
Among the state-monitored schools was Furman L. Templeton Elementary, where since 1993 the proportion of students earning satisfactory scores has risen from 4.2 percent to 14.8 percent.
When the school was ordered to improve, "we were very upset, and we fought with the state, but then Principal Carolyn Blackwell put her head down and went to work, and we're proud of what we've done with that," said city Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.
But there are not enough of these success stories to improve the overall city score, state officials said.
Following statewide trends this year, Baltimore's overall results were hurt by declines at the third-grade level in math, science and social studies. State and city officials were at a loss to explain that pattern and will be examining curricula, teaching methods and the tests themselves.
Several officials, including state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, hung their hopes for better city scores on the recent settlement of lawsuits over management of the city schools and funding. Baltimore agreed to give the state a greater role in school management to get $254 million in new state aid over five years.
The city's eighth-grade results are evidence of how far the city has come -- and how far it has to go.
Satisfactory scores were earned by about 460 of the 5,831 Baltimore eighth-graders who took the reading test and by 490 of the 5,707 who took the math test. The best eighth-grade results came in language use. Of the 6,190 students tested, 1,528, nearly 25 percent, achieved satisfactory scores.
In each case, those are better performances than in 1993.
Pub Date: 12/13/96