WASHINGTON – Maryland has come closer than most states to meeting the government’s education goals, but it still has far to go, according to a congressionally mandated study released Wednesday.
Maryland performed better than the national average in 16 standards used by the National Education Goals Panel, a consortium of federal and state legislators, governors and administration officials.
But in nine categories, Maryland failed to meet the national average. The state has fallen behind most notably on indicators relating to achievement in standardized tests and school safety.
Twenty-six percent of Maryland’s fourth-graders met the panel’s achievement standard on a 1994 reading test, compared to 30 percent nationwide. On a 1996 science test, 25 percent of Maryland eighth-graders met the standard, while nationally, 29 percent of students did so.
Maryland Education Department spokesman Ronald Peiffer linked the results in the testing and safety categories to the state’s poor schools, especially in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
“Many of those schools have been dysfunctional for a number of years,” he said. “We’re doing some very deliberate things at the state level to encourage them to go after performance problems in those areas.”
Things are actually worsening in some areas related to educational performance, according to the 339-page report.
In 1990, 78 out of every 1,000 babies born in Maryland suffered from low birth weight, which may lead to learning and behavioral problems later in life.
By 1995, that figure had jumped to 85 out of 1,000. Nationally, 73 out of every 1,000 babies born in 1995 had low birth weight.
Six years ago, 47 percent of Maryland public secondary school teachers said disruptive students often interfered with teaching, compared to 37 percent nationwide. In 1994, 62 percent of public secondary school teachers in Maryland and 46 percent nationwide reported frequent disruptions.
Maryland did surpass the national average in most categories, especially in Advanced Placement test performance.
The state’s 11th- and 12th-graders ranked behind only the District of Columbia and Utah in performance in the English and mathematics tests. In every test subject listed, more Maryland students earned credit in 1996 than in 1991.
Peiffer credited the state’s emphasis on school achievement standards and accountability for the positive results in many areas. But he warned against becoming complacent simply because Maryland’s college-bound students are succeeding.
“A number of students who are going directly into the workplace are finding they are not fully prepared to take on the skills the workplace is expecting of them,” he said.
The panel also lists Maryland as one of the top states in health care for pregnant women and children.
The report includes results from many previously reported federal surveys. Some of the data used is as much as 3 years old.
At a news conference, several governors and legislators heralded the nation’s progress in the areas of child care and mathematics and science achievement.
Since the national education goals were adopted in 1989, young children have been entering school with fewer health problems, more parents of 3- to 5-year-old children have said they read to their children and mathematics test scores have improved.
Yet at the same time, reading scores have dropped, fewer teachers have held degrees in their main teaching assignment, more teachers have reported problems with disruptive students and rates of drug use among students have rapidly increased.
“Students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” said North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. “We cannot reach high standards unless we have an environment for learning, and that automatically includes a safe and drug-free environment.”
Still, panel members said the country is moving in the right direction overall.
“We are not going to reach all the goals by 2000,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. “But there has been a complete refocus on how to get standards, how to get assessments, how we reach the goals.”