Howard County students again performed better than their peers in all other Maryland school systems on the state's annual achievement exams, but they slipped in eight of the test's 18 categories, county educators announced yesterday.
Overall, the performance of Howard students improved slightly on last spring's Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests -- with 56.9 percent of the county's pupils scoring satisfactory or higher on the 1996 tests, compared with 56 percent in 1995. Carroll County students trailed those in Howard by 1.6 percentage points.
Despite the slippage in about half the test categories, Howard school officials and board members said at a board meeting yesterday afternoon that the results show that Howard students generally are making consistent gains in all subject areas and grades.
"Nobody else is as high, and nobody else is as consistent," said board member Stephen Bounds.
The MSPAP aims to assess the thinking skills of third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in six content areas -- reading, math, social studies, science, writing and language -- by asking students to apply basic skills to real-life problems, often calling on them to work together in groups to solve questions.
Howard students posted either the best or second-best scores in Maryland in 14 of the 18 areas tested, and were third- or fourth-best in the other four areas.
The declines in Howard's scores generally were small but concentrated in the eighth grade, where students slipped in all subject areas except math.
Howard third-grade scores also slipped in science and fell significantly in social studies. But the county's drop in social studies was similar to a decline that occurred across Maryland, and state educators are looking to see if there was a problem with that portion of the exam.
Howard's overall gains this year were "mainly due to fairly substantial gains in the fifth grade," said Leslie Wilson, the county's director of testing. Fifth-graders' performance on writing, language, math and social studies tests rose significantly.
But since 1993 -- the first year MSPAP test results were released to the public -- the overall rate of improvement by Howard students has been below the state average. Some county educators say this is because Howard's scores were the highest in the state from the outset.
Since 1993, the number of Howard students scoring satisfactorily improved 8.2 percentage points -- or about 17 percent. In that same period, the number of Maryland students scoring satisfactorily improved 9 percentage points -- or about 28 percent.
Overall in Maryland, 40.7 percent of students scored satisfactory or better on last spring's MSPAP -- about 16 percentage points below Howard's average.
The state's goal is for 70 percent of all students in Maryland to score satisfactory or better on the MSPAP by 2000.
Individual schools are deemed to have reached a satisfactory level when 70 percent of their students score satisfactory or better on all tests.
In last spring's exams, 19 Howard elementaries achieved satisfactory in at least one of the six subject areas in either the third or fifth grade -- an increase in five schools over 1995.
"More schools are seeing they can do this and make progress," Wilson said.
But the number of Howard middle schools posting a satisfactory score in at least one subject area fell from eight in 1995 to six this year.
Wilson specifically recognized four Howard schools for gains they made on the MSPAP last year: Patuxent Valley Middle School and Bollman Bridge, Bryant Woods and Running Brook elementary schools.
Bryant Woods Elementary School also was one of the 18 Howard elementary and middle schools honored last month for their students' improved performances from 1993 through 1995.
Four of those schools -- including Bryant Woods -- shared more than $95,000 in money from the state for their achievement, and the other 14 schools received certificates honoring their gains on the state tests.
Meanwhile, county educators also announced yesterday that Howard students again met all 12 of the state's other, more basic performance standards. Howard and Carroll counties were the only school systems to meet all 12 standards, which include meeting certain goals for attendance, student dropout rates and the performance of high school students on the Maryland Functional Tests.
Centennial High School was the first county high school to achieve excellent ratings in all 11 of the categories that apply to high schools. Wilson said Hammond High School also made large gains last year toward meeting all of the standards.
Pub Date: 12/13/96