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Report shows grads need math help

September 23, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

A statewide study of 1997 high school graduates indicates Washington County's students were less prepared than others for college, especially in math.

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The county had a higher percentage of graduates who needed to take remedial math than any other jurisdiction in Maryland except Baltimore City.

On the other hand, few college freshmen from Washington County needed help with reading.

Of those who completed a set of core college-preparatory courses, 9 percent needed remedial reading. That's a lower percentage than 14 other jurisdictions, including Montgomery and Frederick counties.

Among those who completed preparatory classes, 34 percent needed remedial math and 20 percent needed remedial English. Only Somerset County had a higher percentage of students needing remedial English.

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"It's distressing information but it's also not a complete picture of education in Washington County," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.

The Student Outcome and Achievement Report does not include graduates who went to colleges or universities outside Maryland.

"It doesn't give you a true picture of where the other kids are," said Belliotti.

Washington County had 1,031 public high school graduates in 1997. The report tracked the 468 who attended Maryland's higher education institutions. Of those, 367, or about 78 percent, went to Hagerstown Community College.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission annually publishes the study, which measures the success of freshmen at state colleges and universities.

The commission warns that its data should be read with caution because different schools have different remedial programs and requirements. At community colleges like HCC, freshmen generally take tests to determine whether they need remedial classes.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said improving college preparation has been the Washington County Board of Education's goal. In a new initiative, public schools and HCC are working together to create a "K-16" mindset, he said.

The cooperation is intended to create a seamless transition from high school to college. Bartlett said he hopes it will encourage more students to attend college and improve their chances for success once they get there.

The MHEC report includes positive and negative information, he said. For example, it shows overall county improvement since 1996.

"I'm very encouraged," Bartlett said, but added that schools have a way to go.

"Over time, we've got to do much better than we've been doing," he said.

The report distinguished between "core" and "noncore" graduates, depending on the preparatory classes they took in high school.

To be included in the "core" group, students had to take at least four years of English, three years of math, three years of social science or history, two years of science and two years of a foreign language.

Washington County had high percentages of "core" and "noncore" graduates who needed remediation. For example, 53 percent of the noncore students needed remedial math, higher than all other jurisdictions except Baltimore City.

Vincent Crowl, chairman of HCC's faculty assembly, said the county must make education a greater financial priority if it wants to it to improve. Higher pay will help retain good teachers, he said.

Public schools are fixing the college-prep problem, according to Crowl.

"I think they've got a handle on it and they're addressing it aggressively, going at it with all the resources they have," he said.

"I think our system is greatly improving."

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