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Maryland Test Scores Rise: Gains for Some Might Fall Short of Federal Standards

Ohanian Comment: Sorry I can't celebrate. I just sit here thinking of all the skill drill this represents.

In the second year of a state test aimed at making schools more accountable, all of Maryland's 24 school districts improved their performance, with elementary grades showing the most significant gains.

Despite the upward trend, hundreds of schools could be labeled as failing later this month and face sanctions because they are not improving fast enough to meet federal standards.

Among the thousands of pieces of data in the Maryland School Assessment results released yesterday were a few surprises. Eastern Technical High School in Essex beat out a host of high-achieving, suburban schools with 98 percent of its 10th-graders passing the reading test, highest in the state.

And Baltimore teachers and students overcame financial turmoil to make some of the largest percentage gains in the state: half of the city's third-graders passed the reading test. But the city ranked last overall, and only 19 percent of eighth-graders passed the math test.

The biggest gain statewide came in third-grade reading, which jumped by 13 percentage points to a pass rate of 71 percent this year. Increases in middle and high school scores were smaller, consistent with previous state and standardized tests.

"We are proud of the work being done across the state," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, who released the scores at a State Board of Education meeting yesterday. "People have taken this very seriously."

The highest-performing school districts in the elementary grades were Howard, Queen Anne's, Harford, Calvert and Carroll counties.

Baltimore County schools gained on each of the seven tests, with average scores largely mirroring the state. The county's highest-scoring elementary school was Carroll Manor in Baldwin.

In Howard, scores increased slightly for almost all grade levels, except eighth-grade reading, which dipped less than 1 percent, from 62.8 to 62.2 percent.

Grasmick said that several factors combined to increase scores, including use of a new state curriculum.

The test, given to gauge compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, will require schools to continue making steady gains for the next decade until 100 percent of children pass. Given in math and reading for grades three, five and eight and reading for 10th-graders, it places more attention on ensuring that special education, poor, minority and limited English speakers achieve at the same level as others. A high-performing school could fail to meet standards if just one group is not improving.

Many systems reported hefty gains in the scores of minority and special education students.

African-Americans in Anne Arundel County, for instance, made greater gains than whites on five of the seven tests. African-Americans' scores rose 17.4 percent in fifth-grade math, compared with a 10.2 percent increase for white students.

Among high schools, Baltimore County's Eastern Technical, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Baltimore City College and Montgomery County's Winston Churchill High School were the top four performers in 10th-grade reading.

That left Howard's Centennial and Baltimore County's Dulaney - two perennial high flyers - further down the list than usual. Eastern, City and Poly all have entrance criteria.

In Anne Arundel, more than 78 percent of third-graders scored at the proficient or advanced level in reading, and 81.4 percent did so in math. Nearly 80 percent of Carroll students met standards in reading in each grade level tested - scoring above the state average and surpassing last year's results. Math scores were comparable, except for eighth grade.

In Harford, the county's elementary schools were among the top performers, with strongest scores in fifth-grade reading.

But schools are uneasily awaiting a state announcement of which have met targets, called adequate yearly progress.

If a school fails to meet standards several years in a row and has a certain percentage of poor children, the school system must offer students the option of transferring to a higher-achieving school or being given extra tutoring help after school. The longer a school fails to meet standards, the more onerous the sanctions become.

Grasmick has asked the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider the formula used to calculate whether a school has made enough progress. She said she expects a response from the federal officials within a week.


— Liz Bowie
Baltimore Sun
2004-06-16
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/education/bal-te.md.msa16jun16,0,7740293.story?coll=bal-local-headlines


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