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Gains on Student Performance Tests in Maryland Reported

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School reform is starting to pay off in Maryland--with across-the-board gains for students in almost all grades and subjects, recent test results indicate.

But despite the progress, nearly two-thirds of students still cannot meet the rigorous standards set by the state in 1989.

Maryland released its fifth annual report card on the state's schools Dec. 12. In addition to information on dropout and attendance rates, it contains results from the Maryland Functional Tests, taken by high school students, and the Maryland School Performance Assessments, taken by 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders.

The latter exam has been the most controversial. It uses hands-on tasks to measure how well students can solve problems and apply what they have learned in six subject areas. A total of 172,000 students took the performance tests in 1994.

The state's goal is to have 70 percent of all students score "satisfactory" or better on the exams, with at least 25 percent scoring at the "excellent" level.

But in last spring's testing, only 35.4 percent of students scored at a satisfactory level, up from 31.7 percent in 1993.

Nonetheless, Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, said she was pleased with the results.

"These across-the-board gains are the best possible news we could deliver to the people of Maryland," she said in a news release. "Schools are moving in the right direction and at a healthy rate."

If schools continue their current rate of growth, she said, 70 percent of the state's students will perform at the satisfactory level or higher by the year 2000. State officials said the standards were deliberately set high to reflect what the average student must know and be able to do by the turn of the century and not current classroom performance.

The results in Maryland echo findings in Kentucky, where students' showing on a new generation of performance assessments has also improved considerably since the tests were first introduced. (See Education Week, 10/05/94.)

Both states are considered to be on the cutting edge of state testing and accountability systems, and their practices are likely to influence those in the rest of the country.

Reconstitution List

Next week, Ms. Grasmick is scheduled to announce the names of up to 12 schools that could be "reconstituted" by the state based on the report-card data. That means that a school's principal and teachers could be replaced, and its instructional program and organization altered.

Last year, two Baltimore high schools were identified for reconstitution. Each ultimately avoided that fate by submitting improvement plans that were approved by the state board of education.

This year will mark the first time that elementary and middle schools could be identified for possible reconstitution. But state officials were not ready to identify which schools might be on the list.

They also declined to comment on what implications the test scores might have for a lawsuit charging the state is not providing an "adequate" education for Baltimore's schoolchildren. Scores in the Baltimore city district were the lowest in the state by a substantial margin, but showed gains in almost every category.

Statewide, performance-test results improved an average of 11 percent over the previous year, with gains in virtually every grade and subject.

At the high school level, at grade 9, schools met the goal for students meeting the "excellent" standard in reading and the "satisfactory" standard in mathematics and citizenship but fell short in writing. In grade 11, the intended number of students met the excellent standard in reading and the satisfactory standard in writing. They missed the grade 11 math and citizenship standards by six-tenths of a percentage point.

Schools also made improvements in student attendance and dropout rates. The dropout rate declined from 6.5 percent in 1990 to 4.5 percent in 1994. The state goal is 1.25 percent.

The report card also provides information on student performance in each of the state's 24 local school systems. School districts must release performance reports on their schools by the end of this month. The tests are intended to measure school improvement, not the performance of individual students. To keep test-taking time to a minimum, each student is given only a portion of the exam. Thus, a complete performance test score does not exist for individual children, although districts will make results available to parents on request.

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