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Chinks in the armor? Howard County: Despite good MSPAP scores again, system must not rest on past laurels.


An editorial in yesterday's edition of The Sun in Howard County listed the wrong school as having improved its standardized test scores through an extensive reading program. That school is Bryant Woods Elementary.

The Sun regrets the error.

EDUCATION ADMINISTRATORS in Howard County are proud their school system's status as the top performer in the state on annual achievement exams. They should be. In fact, Carroll County and other high-scoring jurisdictions are not the real challengers to Howard's strong marks on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests.

Lethargy is.

This year, 56.9 percent of county students in third, fifth and eighth grades reached at least the satisfactory mark, a slight increase over last year. Students finished with the best or second-best scores in the state in 14 of the 18 MSPAP categories, which examine critical thinking skills. However, while there is no reason to panic over slight declines in eight of the categories, mostly in eighth grade, the slippage should serve notice that the school system cannot rest on its laurels.

Howard schools, whose consistently solid results are largely due to the area's affluence, have met challenges in recent years by providing strong teachers, good facilities and adequate equipment to aid academic performance.

The formidable task for the Board of Education is to maintain high standards in a time of tight budgets and growing enrollment. The strain of trying to pull off this magic trick is already beginning to show.

A report on Howard middle schools released this fall exaggerated the extent of problems, but some findings are valid. Among other things, the report concluded that too many ninth-grade students get promoted unprepared to do high school work. To its credit, the board has taken such criticism seriously.

Board members must scramble to compensate for budget cuts of past years. The system has spent less on textbooks than in the past, for example, leaving per-pupil spending at half what it was earlier this decade. The board must also bring libraries in older schools up to par with those in new buildings. If dramatic improvement at Bollman Bridge Elementary is an indication, reading is at the core of strong performance. Scores there rose after an extensive reading program was instituted. Howard could choose to celebrate holding onto its No. 1 status in MSPAP, but would serve its students better by addressing chinks in the armor.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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