Superintendent Iris T. Metts laid out ambitious student achievement goals for the Prince George's County school system this week, promising to double the number of students who pass a high-stakes state exam and raise the county's SAT average 211 points within five years.

Metts said she is setting a high bar for the 130,000-student system, which ranks second to last on Maryland School Performance and Assessment Program exams, because the time is ripe for improvement.

"I've been in education long enough to know we can do this," Metts said in an interview after discussing her goals, academic plan and budget request at a news conference in Landover.

About 31 percent of Prince George's students attain satisfactory scores on the MSPAP exams; Metts wants to raise that to 62 percent. The county's average combined score on the SAT is 889; Metts hopes to bring that up to 1100. The national combined average is 1016.

Rarely has a Prince George's school chief made such bold promises. Metts said she did so to improve credibility in the system's leadership and show county and state leaders, as well as county residents, what they can expect if her budget requests are funded.

She has asked for $1 billion in operating funds for next school year and outlined a five-year $2.9 billion capital improvement plan. County leaders have said it will be difficult to fund the requests.

"It is ambitious and inspiring of her to set these goals," said County Council Vice Chairman Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood). "This puts the pressure on us to say, 'If we believe we are going to meet these goals, we are going to have to pay for it.' "

School board leaders said they intend to hold Metts accountable for the goals she has set. But they acknowledged if she does not get as much money as she has requested, it could be difficult for her to meet them.

"I don't want her to realign her goals, but if we don't get the money, how can we hold her accountable?" asked School Board Chairman James E. Henderson (Seabrook).

Metts has developed a five-year academic plan that focuses heavily on intensifying instruction in basic skills to very young pupils. "Progress will not be as rapid," she said, without full funding for her plans.

"It will happen more slowly," Metts said. "And when it goes slowly, people lose faith. But if we can get that shot in the arm with this year's budget, we can deal with the instructional issues and the [classroom] space crunch and get moving in the right direction."

Metts's operating budget request goes to the school board, then to County Executive Wayne K. Curry in March. He can make changes before sending it to the County Council in April, and that body will adopt the final plan in June.

Achievement Goals in Prince George's

Superintendent Iris T. Metts has outlined strict achievement goals for Prince George's County students aimed at doubling the number of students who pass the state exams and raising the county's SAT average.

Indicator Baseline 5-year target

CTBS

Second-grade reading 40 70

Second-grade math 34 64

Fourth-grade reading 40 70

Fourth-grade math 33 63

Sixth-grade reading 40 70

Sixth-grade math 39 69

MSPAP

Third grade 31 62

Fifth grade 32 62

Eighth grade 30 60

Algebra/Geometry completion

(PERCENT OF NINTH-GRADERS)

Algebra 66% 75%

Geometry 64% 75%

SAT 889 1100

Rigorous courses* 14.4% 40%

Full-day kindergarten 48.2% 100%

Class size

Kindergarten 22 15:1**

Grades 1-3 25 20

Attendance rate

Middle school 93.2% 96%

High school 89.1% 96%

Dropout rate 2.62 1.5

Mentors 2,500 10,000

Student/Computer ratio 11:1 5:1

Provisional teachers 19.8% 0%

* Rigorous courses: Percentage of graduates who mastered four of the following six performance indicators:

1. Two or more credits in foreign language with a grade of B or better.

2. Two or more credits of approved advanced technology with a grade of B or better.

3. Mathematics courses beyond algebra II and geometry with a grade of B or better.

4. Four credits of science with a grade of B or better.

5. Score of 1,000 or higher on SAT-1 or 20 or higher on ACT, or both.

6. A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale.

**K-3 Reading/Language Arts

SOURCE: Prince George's County Public School System