The proportion of black students in Montgomery County who passed the Maryland Functional Writing Test increased markedly last year over the previous year, but still lagged behind the proportion of white students who passed the test, according to a special report on minority progess released yesterday by School Superintendent Wilmer Cody.
While 6 percent more black students passed the test last year, their passing rate was 16 percentage points lower than that of white students.
Cody issued his 22-page report at a meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education last night. It was his response to a report from the Citizens' Minority Relations Monitoring Committee, an independent group of school parents. The committee's report, released a month ago, strongly criticized Montgomery County's efforts to improve minority student scores, saying schools "fall significantly" short of providing a quality education for black students.
In responding to Cody's plan to improve academic performance among minority students, board member Sharon DiFonzo said, "I agree we have a problem here. But I don't think it can be resolved only by the board members and the superintendent. We need a commitment from parents and community members . . . . We are going to unite, and together we are going to succeed."
Board President Robert Shoenberg agreed that the school system has been making progress in improving minority performance. "In some areas there are strategies which will lead us to success, but in others we will have to develop new strategies," he said.
Roscoe Nix, president of the Montgomery County NAACP, said he didn't think Cody's plan would be very effective. "The plan is not going to change things around," he said. "What will change things is constant monitoring and constant criticism of inaction." Nix said black parents should form community groups to pressure school officials to develop programs to improve minority achievement.
Except for the writing test scores, Cody's report included few new statistics on minority achievement. It noted that 76 percent of white students passed the writing test last year, an increase of seven percentage points over the previous two years.
In comparison, 60 percent of black students who took the test passed, a six percentage point improvement over the previous year and a 15 percentage point improvement over two years ago.
The number of Hispanics who passed the test also went up significantly. Sixty four percent of Hispanic students passed the writing test last year, an improvement of 14 percentage points over two years ago.
Asian students had the highest passing rate on the test: 75 percent passed last year, an increase of 8 percentage points over two years ago.
Montgomery County students scored significantly better on the test than the statewide average of 54.1 percent. Students were asked to write a paragraph in response to two questions. Two testers graded each paragraph on a scale of 0 to 4. The combined score was the total score, and a grade of 5.5 was passing.
Montgomery County school officials said they are encouraged by the gains black students and Hispanics have made in passing the test, which is a requirement for graduation next year.
But James L. Robinson, chairman of the Citizens' Minority Relations Monitoring Committee, said, "It seems to me there is an inability by the system to teach these young people and have them learn in a manner in which they can become fairly proficient in that skill," he said. "I think it will be a long time before we get them up to where 70 or 75 percent are passing."