Schools post high scores on state tests Fifth-graders rank first in the MSPAP in 3 of 6 categories; 'These are lifelong skills'; The overall results are just below those of Howard County


Carroll County schools posted the second-highest overall score in the Maryland School Performance and Assessment Program this year, with fifth-graders showing the biggest gains.

School officials beamed as they released the results of the tests taken in early May. Although scores rose in most categories, fifth-graders were the stars who ranked first in the state in three of the six categories.

Students who took the test in May as fifth-graders are now in sixth grade. That group showed large gains for the county as third-graders. The tests are given in grades three, five and eight.

"Whatever it is that we're doing [in grade five], we want to do it at three and eight, and repeat it at five," said Gary Dunkleberger, assistant superintendent for instruction.

Curtis Schnorr, principal at Friendship Valley Elementary, said the disparity between third and fifth grades could be that fifth-graders have more experience with the test, and also have the cumulative benefit of the way Carroll has changed instruction over the past several years.

"The longer we have kids, the better impact we have," Schnorr said. "This is not an episodic event. It's the culmination of a four-year effort."

With MSPAP, any given class will take one-third of the test. Students work together in groups to come up with answers, then each one records them. Students write paragraphs explaining how they reached their answers. One answer is scored for several subjects -- a math answer would be judged for writing as well as computation.

At Friendship Valley, teachers have children use highly structured "Thinking Maps," and a list of 12 "intelligent behaviors," such as being persistent, checking facts and using prior knowledge.

On a daily basis, teachers have children do MSPAP-like work, such as highlight the most critical information in a paragraph, manage their time and write one sentence that sums up the topic of their essays.

"These are lifelong skills," Schnorr said. "This is not just something we do because of MSPAP but because it helps us to be better thinkers and learners."

Carroll's overall ranking is just below Howard County, but schools here spend $998 less per student that the wealthier Howard, Dunkleberger said.

Carroll ranks 16th of 24 in the state in per-pupil spending at $5,795, and ties for 22nd in the ratio of teachers to students.

The goal of the state tests in grades three, five and eight is that by the year 2000, at least 70 percent of students will score satisfactory or higher in six categories: reading, writing, language usage, math, science and social studies.

Statewide, only one school -- Somerset Elementary in Montgomery County -- has ever met all the standards, in 1994 and this year.

In Carroll, the two schools that came closest are:

Mount Airy Middle School, where eighth-graders met the standard in four of six categories.

Friendship Valley, where fifth-graders have hit 70 percent or more in four categories.

Other schools that met at least one standard are New Windsor and Sykesville middle schools; and Carrolltowne, Charles Carroll, Eldersburg, Hampstead, Mechanicsville, Piney Ridge, Spring Garden and Winfield elementary schools.

In addition to those test scores, the information released yesterday makes up the annual "report card" on school systems, in which the state compiles a series of measures, such as attendance, drop-out rates and functional tests students must pass to graduate.

These other measures raised two concerns:

Carroll's drop-out rate remains at 3 percent. Although still above the state average, the rate compares poorly to neighboring counties such as Howard (2.26 percent) and Frederick (2.33 percent). Those counties are consistently neck-and-neck with Carroll each year in state ranking of the best school systems.

In the functional tests, Carroll students fared a little worse on the citizenship test, which 98 percent of juniors passed, down from 98.5 percent last year and 98.7 percent in 1991.

Dunkleberger said the test is on facts, while instruction in schools has moved more toward thinking skills and how to look up information, instead of rote memorization of facts.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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