Another gold star

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's schools won another gold star this week when the College Board reported that the state ranked first in the percentage of high school seniors scoring well on the Advanced Placement tests, which entitle students to college credits at many higher-education institutions.

The accolades will surely please state school officials, who have touted the progress the state has made in recent years. But like similarly upbeat assessments of state graduation rates and student achievement levels last month by the journal Education Week, the report shouldn't distract attention from the serious challenges the state still faces, particularly in its most troubled school districts.

Nearly a quarter of Maryland seniors scored 3 or higher on one or more of the AP exams. The percentage of Maryland students scoring at that level has been rising steadily since 2003; last year, more than a third of the state's 50,000 seniors took the exams, the highest percentage of any state.

Yet while Maryland has made progress overall, it has been uneven and there are big geographical and racial disparities across the state. Only 9 percent of students receiving a grade of 3 or better on the AP exams were black, although that was an increase from the 2002 figure of 6.4 percent. By contrast, Hispanics, who comprise a smaller share of the student population, accounted for 6.9 percent of seniors scoring high on the AP exam.

With the state facing a $2 billion budget deficit, lawmakers may be tempted to hold the line on state spending for education or even cut programs. But over the long run, Maryland's prosperity depends on well-educated workers. Recent improvements in test scores signal Maryland is moving in the right direction, but much more needs to be done before the state is prepared to compete effectively in an increasingly knowledge-based 21st-century economy. This is no time to rest on our laurels.

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