Montgomery County School Superintendent Harry Pitt presented the school board with a plan last night to improve minority student achievement by holding individual schools accountable for the progress made by black and Hispanic students on functional and achievement tests.
His plan, which will begin this fall and is part of the school board's four-year-old commitment to improving minority performance, calls for assigning an associate superintendent at each of the three area offices to work with school principals to set numerical goals and track their schools' progress.
"I think these are ambitious goals," Pitt said, "I'm hopeful we can reach these goals, although I can't sit here tonight and say we will reach them."
School board members and some black community leaders reacted positively to Pitts' plan. James Robinson, who heads a group of parents that monitors minority issues in the school system, said, "I'm pleased with the direction this effort is moving in." He added that he has reservations about whether the plan for individual schools will be ready by the beginning of the school year, and said he feels "angry that three or four years have been wasted and the school board has to bear a great deal of responsibility for letting it ride."
School board member Blair Ewing, a longtime proponent of addressing minority issues, said he was glad to see the "emphasis on accountability" in Pitt's plan. But he asked for more information on how school officials will identify specific successful strategies that schools use to improve minority test scores.
Lagging minority achievement and low test scores were a troublesome problem for school officials during the tenure of School Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody, who left office last month. Improving minority scores was designated one of Cody's main tasks when he was hired by the board in 1983. But toward the end of his tenure, some board members grew dissatisfied with his efforts.
Pitt, a veteran Montgomery school administrator who served as Cody's deputy, said he expects most schools will achieve the goals within four years.
While each school will have to meet system-wide goals for improving minority performance, each will do so within an individualized schedule.
"Some schools will be able to meet these goals the first year," he said in a report to the school board. "Others will take several years to achieve them. But I believe that all schools will show annual progress, and many will be able to achieve these goals within the next four years."
School officials will share with other schools the strategies of schools that meet or surpass the goals set for them, according to Pitt's plan. "Where schools fail to make adequate progress, we will work to ascertain the reasons and take corrective actions."
Pitt's report does not spell out the possible "corrective actions," but in previous discussions school officials have suggested that principals and school staff members could be transferred if a school fails to improve minority student achievement.
School officials were puzzled and disappointed this year with the lack of progress of black and Hispanic students on the Maryland functional writing tests, one of four tests required for graduation. The rate of blacks passing the test declined from 78 percent to 73.
Sixty-nine percent of Hispanics passed the tests, one percentage point less than last year. Passing rates for whites increased by one percentage point, to 85 percent, and Asians' scores increased 8 points, to 88 percent.
Pitt has set a target for all the functional tests -- writing, math, reading, and citizenship -- of 80 percent as a passing rate for minorities by the time they complete 9th grade, and 90 percent by 10th grade.
While the scores of black students on the California Achievement Test have risen in recent years, they still trail whites. The scores of black 11th graders on the math CAT rose from the 48th percentile in 1982 to the 52nd percentile in 1985, while the gap between white and black scores widened from 15 points to 16.
In reading, 11th grade blacks went from the 47th percentile in 1982 to the 51st percentile in 1985. The gap with white students narrowed by one point to 18 points.
Pitt's plan will monitor the progress that black and Hispanic students make on the CAT exams from third to fifth grade and from fifth to eighth grade, and sets goals for individual schools.
Another goal of Pitt's plan is to increase participation of black and Hispanic students in gifted and talented programs so that their numbers reflect their proportion in the general school population.
Pitt's plan calls for issuing a report every August on the progress individual schools have made in attaining the minority goals.
"I believe that the accountability plan outlined here holds great promise," Pitt said.
"It builds on the progress we've already made in the education of black and Hispanic students and provides challenging goals for the future."