Black students in Anne Arundel County schools are doing better in reading, English and math, but they still get punished more frequently and get placed into special education at a higher rate than their majority peers, according to school officials.
A progress report released Thursday comes three years after a landmark mediation agreement was reached between Anne Arundel County schools and black advocacy groups to tackle those problems.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the parties in the mediation agreement, viewed the positive results in the report with skepticism and lamented the lack of progress in other areas.
Mikio Manuel, an NAACP spokesman, said the organization wants to see the raw data behind the gains as well as get more detailed information on the number of black high school students who are dropping out. He said the latter figure is not known, because the school system does not track the number of students who drop out of evening school.
"I'm concerned about what the true picture is," Manuel said. "I am disappointed there wasn't more progress."
School system officials said they are planning a "data day" when they will share the raw data with interested parties, said Carlesa Finney, director of equity assurance and human relations.
The report does not hide the fact that the school system has not made significant strides in discipline and special education. She said the problems, especially in achievement gaps, are not unique to Anne Arundel County and will take a long time to reverse.
"There is no way to eliminate a long-standing disparity in education ... in a matter of a few years," Finney said.
The county school system held seven community forums Thursday night to share its findings. The forums were required as part of a 2005 federal mediation agreement between the school system and the NAACP, the African-American coalition RESPECT Inc. and a group of parents. The three groups filed a formal complaint against the school system to the federal Office of Civil Rights in 2004, pointing to disproportionate expulsions, suspensions and placement in special education for minority students.
On the positive side, the number of black students in grades three through 12 who passed countywide Maryland School Assessment and High School Assessment (HSA) tests increased by a quarter from 2003 to 2007.
The report shows that while black students have made gains in passing the HSA tests, they lag behind their peers. For example, 59 percent of black students passed the English 2 test in 2007, compared with a 75-percent pass rate among all students. Two years earlier, only 38 percent of black students passed.
The lag could translate into fewer diplomas for black students next year when high schools begin to require students to pass the HSAs to graduate. The NAACP is trying to build a coalition of groups to help students pass the tests next year.
Of the county's 74,000 students, about 23 percent are black. Yet black students made up nearly half of the students classified as mentally retarded and about a third of students classified as emotionally disturbed or learning disabled. The percentages changed little, if at all, in 2007 from the previous year.
Although the number of disciplinary referrals decreased in 2007 from the year before, black students still made up a larger percentage of referrals. Twenty percent of all students received referrals. Of that percentage, more than a third were for black students.
Finney said that administrators are being required to attend two days of cultural proficiency training to learn the differences in learning styles among minority students and how to handle perceived disciplinary problems.
John Wilson, executive director of RESPECT Inc., said training is the school system's greatest accomplishment.
"When you teach teachers that Hispanics may not look at you directly, but it's not a sign of disrespect, then you can respond differently," Wilson said.
Denita Bouyer, who has two children in Severna Park schools, said she has seen efforts to improve minority student performance in the past three years.
After the agreement was reached, Severna Park Middle School created African American Park Pride to encourage minority students to plan for college. The NAACP held a Black Youth Summit to teach students how to succeed. At Severna Park High School, administrators started Falcon Flight, a weekly tutoring program that has helped minority students.
DISPARITIES IN SCHOOLS
Highlights of report on disparities in achievement and discipline in Anne Arundel County schools:
The racial disparity in achievement appears to be lessening.
In 2007 the pass rate on countywide reading and English tests was 15 percent lower among black students than it was for all students. Four years earlier, the gap was 20 percent.
On math tests, the gap shrank from 23 percent to 16 percent.
The disparity in discipline is worsening, at least by one measure.
In 2007, 57 percent of students receiving extended suspension were black, up from 44 percent three years earlier; the percentage of black students expelled remained unchanged at 52 percent, though black students make up 23 percent of the overall student population.
Source: Anne Arundel County Public Schools