Despite steady and even dramatic improvement at individual schools, the Baltimore County school system overall made no significant gains on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) last school year, posting almost stagnant scores after two years of improvements.
"Over time, Baltimore County has demonstrated progress," state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday. "This year it has leveled off, and it requires a very comprehensive look, because of the largeness of the system, at every individual school."
The results, made public yesterday, placed the county 13th out of 24 systems in the state for overall performance on six tests at three grade levels. Individual school results are expected to be released today.
County scores on the 1995-1996 tests inched up -- two-tenths of a point, not enough to be statistically significant. Over the past three years, the county's composite score rose a total of 9.8 points -- a growth rate that state education officials consider "moderate" -- to a level where, on average, 44.7 percent of students achieved a satisfactory score.
County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler said that school leaders were pleased with the three-year growth and attributed this year's overall slowdown to declines in third-grade math, science and social studies -- a statewide phenomenon that educators cannot explain.
County Schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione could not be reached for comment yesterday; Mohler said the superintendent plans to first address the scores today.
In a prepared statement, Marchione praised the schools' successes and said: "Thousands of children are receiving better educations today than they were when the first state report card was released."
State education officials attribute this year's overall performance, in part, to the "supertanker" syndrome. Large school systems such as the county -- with about 104,000 students this year -- along with Montgomery and Prince George's counties, are more difficult to turn around.
To meet the standards set for the year 2000, when 70 percent of students in each school are expected to perform satisfactorily, those systems will need to make system-wide changes in instruction and teacher training, and probe each school's data to tailor-make improvement plans, Grasmick said.
Other than the declines in third-grade math, science, social studies and reading, Baltimore County test scores improved in other third-grade subjects, as did fifth- and eighth-grade scores in most subjects. Attendance and dropout rates also improved. The school system topped the state average in every MSPAP category.
And in pockets throughout the county, schools continued to make significant progress, some placing among the state's leaders in rank or improvement. Fullerton Elementary was the only county school where third-graders achieved a satisfactory rating on all six 1996 tests.
Fullerton is among four elementary schools in the state whose third-graders scored satisfactory on all tests; the others were in Montgomery County.
Fullerton children, mostly from middle-class and working-class families, improved the most among county schools since 1993, when the state began counting the tests -- gaining 27.3 points in its average score, from 40.1 to 67.4.
Three county middle schools -- Pikesville, Pine Grove and Perry Hall -- were among seven middle schools in the state that posted significant gains three years in a row.
Fullerton Principal John Hutchinson attributed the gains to a 10-year-old school-wide emphasis on applying academic lessons to real-world ventures. Critical thinking skills that can be applied to real life are the crux of the MSPAP test and the state's school reform effort.
Other high points in the county include:
Johnnycake Elementary, whose average score jumped the most in one year -- 14 points -- of all county elementary schools.
Dumbarton Middle, which improved the most of all middle schools since 1993, gaining 27.6 points over three years.
Sudbrook Magnet Middle, which improved the most of all middle schools in one year, picking up 10.7 points.
Pub Date: 12/13/96