School proficiency gap among groups persists, tests reveal

Howard County's scores on the new Maryland School Assessment tests, released Aug. 22, show that while its students continue to outperform nearly all others in the state, the achievement gap among ethnic and racial subgroups persists.

At the third-grade level, for example, 85.7 percent of white children were proficient or advanced in reading - the passing measure - while 58.9 percent of black pupils and 50.7 percent of Hispanic pupils achieved that level.

And 20.3 percent of special education third-graders read at the required level, which supports the state's claim that Howard is not making adequate progress with special education students. The state also said that those whose English proficiency is limited, nearly 60 percent of whom failed the third-grade reading test, are not making adequate progress. But the county is not sure what to do with those numbers.

Welfare numbers on rise in Howard, Harford

While traditional cash payments to welfare recipients continue to drop in Maryland overall - especially in Baltimore - prosperous Howard and Harford counties are seeing sharply higher numbers of people going on assistance rolls.

Disturbed by the trend - a 94 percent increase in Howard and a 59 percent jump in Harford over two years and lesser increases in other suburbs - state Department of Human Resources officials commissioned a study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, which blamed recession-related unemployment intensified by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Both counties have unemployment rates hovering around 4.7 percent.

Population movement from Baltimore to the suburbs also accounted for some of the increase, the study found.

Fans see Merriweather threatened by Rouse plans

For 36 summers, music fans have gathered on the grassy rise at Merriweather Post Pavilion, sitting on blankets, singing along with their favorite bands and dancing under the sun and stars.

The open-sided pavilion surrounded by towering beech trees has brought hundreds of national acts to Columbia, but soon that tradition may end.

Pointing to financial losses at the concert pavilion, the Rouse Co. plans to rebuild it or replace it with an enclosed, year-round venue. The company is seeking to develop the land around the pavilion, including its parking lots.

For its fans, who return year after year to see perennial favorites such as Jimmy Buffett and The Grateful Dead, such changes mean a cherished landmark will never be the same.

"People need to get that [Merriweather] is gone, and it is not coming back," said Justin Carlson, a computer programmer from Columbia who has organized Save Merriweather, a grass-roots effort to save the pavilion. "It is going to be a real loss. It is going to create a vacuum in this region."

Three Brothers taking over Piccolos site for restaurant

Three Brothers Italian Restaurants is taking over the site of a former Piccolos restaurant that closed two years ago, and it has plans to create its own miniature restaurant park there.

The restaurant company - owned by brothers Michael, Mario and Peter Repole - purchased the site off Snowden River Parkway.

They are renovating the building for a planned opening in January. Part of the $2.4 million business plan involves enclosing the patio to create a cafe.

SAT scores in county jump to average 1096

Howard County's average verbal and math scores on the college-preparatory SAT test jumped 6 points each this year to a combined total of 1096 out of a possible 1600 - the county's all-time high.

The results, which were released Tuesday, put Howard's total 74 points higher than the state average and 72 points above the national mean. Last year's score of 1084 mirrored that of the previous year.

Howard also led all counties in Maryland, with scores slightly ahead of those in Montgomery, where the average combined score declined a point to 1094.

$120 million request likely for school construction

A draft of the Howard County school system's capital budget request, presented to the Board of Education Tuesday, shows the system is likely to need more than $120 million next year in state and county construction funds.

The request would be the largest ever by the school system, which asked for $87.9 million last year and received $62 million.

The costliest projects include $35.6 million to start construction of a high school the county is hoping to open in 2005 and $20.5 million for an elementary scheduled to open in 2006.

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