BALTIMORE, NOV. 19 -- Maryland education officials issued a first "report card" today on the state's 24 school systems, showing that most fail to meet stiff new state standards on dropouts, school attendance and what teenagers are expected to know.
The report, the start of an annual critique intended to prod schools to improve, shows that 20 school systems have too many dropouts and that only one has enough high school students in class each day.
Montgomery and Howard counties received the highest ratings, each meeting seven of eight standards that all schools are expected to attain by 1995. Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties fell in the middle, while Baltimore was at the bottom in almost every category.
"On a statewide basis, we are not meeting very many of those standards," said State Superintendent of Schools Joseph L. Shilling. "There are school systems that have a lot of progress to make."
That judgment drew immediate complaints from local school systems for a variety of reasons. Some contended that the standards may be unreachable. Others said they could force undesirable changes in what schools teach, while others grumbled simply that the report doesn't tell educators anything new.
The most vehement protests came from Prince George's Superintendent John A. Murphy, who has touted his county's rise in standardized test scores -- a factor not considered on the report card. "Here they are setting arbitrary standards . . . . It is not a helpful analysis of data at all," Murphy said.
The Maryland School Performance Program Report, released by Shilling, is the first phase of an attempt to improve the education of the state's 674,000 students by holding their schools' accomplishments -- and failures -- up to public scrutiny.
The report also is a new effort to compare school systems' performances with the quality of their raw materials. Alongside each county's ratings are descriptions of their wealth, how many teachers they have, and how many of their students are disadvantaged or do not speak English.
The decision to rate school systems, approved earlier this year by the State Board of Education, is part of a broader reform effort and will help form the basis of a rare state accreditation program that is planned to start in a few years.
In addition to the report card, the board also has approved plans that would, if funded, raise the dropout age, create more preschool classes, give schools more computers and add 20 days to the school year.
Though the report contains little information that is new, it represents the first basis for comprehensive, annual analysis of whether Maryland's schools are getting better or worse. Future reports will contain individual ratings of each of the state's 1,201 schools, and will include additional standards such as test scores of younger children and what students do after high school graduation.
Despite the gloomy initial picture, state education officials tried to create a festive climate with "Schools for Success" buttons, balloons and a proclamation from Gov. William Donald Schaefer declaring today "Success Day 1990."
And Shilling, who has been under pressure from Schaefer to make bold education changes, portrayed the report as a dramatic departure.
"This is a new way of doing business," he said at a news conference this morning. "We have set very high standards, and our objective is to build schools for success." He said he had not expected most school systems to reach the standards this year or next.
Shilling said the rating program also signals a new working relationship between the state and local school systems, in which state officials would step in to advise school systems that are lagging. "We are not the umpire," he said. "We are going to get into the business of helping people."
He acknowledged that the report also had a less overt purpose -- justifying bigger education subsidies, particularly to poorer parts of the state such as Baltimore that had the worst ratings. "It is an indirect lobbying device in a sense," Shilling said. "For the first time, we are going to be in a position to show how money makes a difference."
Specifically, the report shows that, statewide, Maryland schools met only two standards -- having at least 94 percent of all elementary children in class daily and promoting at least 96 percent of elementary students to the next grade.
Only four counties, including Howard and Montgomery, met the goal of having no more than 3 percent of high school students drop out annually. And only one -- Worcester County on the Eastern Shore -- attained the goal of having at least 94 percent of all middle school and senior high students attending class.
The report also showed that half the school systems do not meet the goal that calls for at least 95 percent of high school students to pass a reading competency test on the first try. Four school systems, including Howard and Montgomery, attained the goal of an 80 percent passing rate on a math competency test.
In Howard County, which had some of the highest ratings, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey praised the report unequivocally.
On the other hand, Prince George's schools had not met five of the eight standards. Its secondary-school attendance rate -- 89 percent -- was the state's second worst, after Baltimore. And its percentage of students passing the math test on the first try -- 58 percent -- was the third lowest, after Baltimore and Somerset County.