Test scores released yesterday show Baltimore County schools making strides in reading, lagging in middle and high school math and narrowing a minority achievement gap.
The county's average scores exceeded the state average in every area tested in elementary and middle schools. Reflecting a state trend, scores in middle school reading were much higher than those in middle school math.
On high school tests, the county's average scores were all slightly below Maryland averages.
Eastern Technical High School in Essex solidified its standing as an academic powerhouse, posting the state's highest high school scores on algebra and geometry tests. The magnet school made headlines in June after receiving Maryland's top 10th-grade reading score.
An elated Principal Pat McCusker said he "just couldn't be any more proud of our students and staff."
At Carroll Manor Elementary in Baldwin, perennially Baltimore County's top performer, 100 percent of pupils passed the fourth-grade tests in reading and math -- a feat accomplished by just three other schools in Maryland and no others in the Baltimore area.
The state released Maryland School Assessment scores for grades four, six and seven in reading and math and for high school geometry. These tests, administered in March, were taken for the first time this year and will not count in the state's calculation of "adequate yearly progress" required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The state released MSA data for other grades in the spring.
Fourth-grade pupils from the county who are black increased their pass rate by 8 percent in math and 22 percent in reading compared with their 2003 scores on the third-grade tests.
"The achievement gap has traditionally been an issue for school systems across the nation," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said in a statement. "Today's results show that we can make progress in reducing and eventually eliminating the gap."
One school eliminating the gap is Milbrook Elementary in the Milford community. Just steps from the Baltimore City line, the school has an enrollment that is 81 percent black, and it receives federal money for schools serving a large number of low-income children.
Milbrook's fourth-graders beat county and state averages, with 86 percent passing the reading test and 79 percent passing in math. And its black fourth-graders outperformed their white peers.
Andrea Derrien, the school's reading specialist, attributed Milbrook's success in part to teachers working together during their planning periods and increasing children's opportunities for enrichment.
Yesterday, the state also made public results of the High School Assessments, tests in English, algebra, biology and government that students will need to pass to graduate, starting with the Class of 2009. High schools have struggled to motivate students to do their best.
Still, Baltimore County students performed much better on the English test -- 50 percent passed compared with 37 percent last year. Statewide and in Baltimore County, scores rose in biology and government.
At Dundalk High School, social studies teachers offered prizes such as gift certificates to area restaurants and a football signed by Ravens players to students trying their hardest, Principal Peggy Johnson said.
Yet Dundalk was one of many county high schools to see its pass rate drop sharply in algebra -- in Dundalk's case, from 40 percent to 13 percent. The trend affected even the most established performers: Dulaney had a 38 percent pass rate on the algebra test, while 35 percent of students passed at Towson.
The reason for the drop, according to principals: Starting last fall, Baltimore County eliminated all high school math classes easier than Algebra I. Since all Algebra I students must take the algebra High School Assessment, those struggling with math the most were added to the testing pool.
Students must pass the test once before graduating.
The county also announced that 140 of its 162 schools made "adequate yearly progress" this year, up from 120 schools. Under No Child Left Behind, schools failing to make adequate progress for two consecutive years must offer students the option of transferring to higher-performing schools.
The state released the list of schools that did not make adequate progress in the spring, but has added schools by incorporating graduation rates and attendance data into the formula used to determine whether schools make the grade. The new list will not be released until systems review its accuracy.