Anne Arundel County students performed better than the state average in reading and math on this year's Maryland School Assessment and made bigger gains over last year than their peers statewide, according to data released yesterday.
The test scores also indicated that the county is having success in narrowing an achievement gap between white or privileged pupils and those of minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, although special-education pupils fell further behind their peers.
Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he was impressed by the results, which come at the end of a year of significant changes for the school system. They include standardized school schedules and curricula and an emphasis on basic reading and math skills.
"To have a shift [in test scores] so quickly just speaks volumes about the strength of our teachers and the capacity of our students," said Smith, who is finishing his second year as Anne Arundel's school's chief.
The assessments were given to the state's third-, fifth- and eighth-graders. Tenth-graders were tested only in reading.
Third-grade pupils were the county's highest performers on the tests, which were administered in March. Of the more than 5,400 third-graders tested, 78.5 percent passed the reading test by scoring at the proficient or advanced level, up from 64 percent last year. On the math test, 81.4 percent earned passing scores, up from 73 percent last year.
Statewide, by comparison, 71 percent of third-graders were successful on this year's reading test and 72 percent passed the math test.
The Anne Arundel school system also made some headway toward its goal of narrowing what educators call the "achievement gap" between different groups of pupils.
African-American students, for example, made greater gains than did white students on five of the seven tests given, although they posted smaller gains than those students in eighth-grade math and 10th-grade reading.
Pupils who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals also posted higher gains than their peers on many tests.
Special-education pupils, however, failed on nearly every test to keep up with the gains made by the general population.
The county is aiming to trim the achievement gap to no more than 10 percentage points by 2007 between any two groups of pupils.
School officials said they plan to study the areas of weakness and overcome them. "Special education is not where it needs to be, but we're moving in the right direction," Smith said.
More work also needs to be done to help certain minority groups catch up to the rest of the student population, Smith said. Only half of Hispanic fifth-graders, for instance, passed the math assessment, compared with 58 percent of African-Americans and 71 percent of whites.
Overall, however, school officials said they were thrilled with the county's results.
Several Anne Arundel schools continued to earn test scores that put them among the best schools in the state. Severna Park and Magothy River middle schools were among the top dozen middle schools in Maryland, flanked by schools in wealthier Montgomery and Howard counties.
And Anne Arundel County pupils, as a whole, outscored Montgomery County in third-grade reading, and third- and fifth-grade math.
Many of Anne Arundel's lowest-achieving schools also made significant gains - some of them improving at a higher rate than top county schools.
Teachers at some of the more troubled schools were rejoicing about their higher test scores yesterday, even as they waited to find out whether the schools have made sufficient progress in the state's eyes.
Under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, all schools must meet certain annual targets as they work toward a goal that all pupils be proficient in reading and math by 2014.