State school results show slim progress

173 need improvement, down from 179 in 2004

Special education poses problem

Most troubled sites are in city, Prince George's

Maryland School Assessment

June 21, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The number of elementary and middle schools in Maryland failing to meet state standards in math and reading decreased slightly this year, with troubled schools continuing to be concentrated in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, according to data released yesterday.

Of the state's more than 1,000 elementary and middle schools, 173 were deemed "in need of improvement" - a drop from last year's 179 - in this annual reckoning of how well schools measure up on the Maryland School Assessment exams given every March.

While 10 of the 22 schools to be promoted off Maryland's list of failing schools were in Baltimore and Prince George's, the two systems are still struggling to make the progress demanded under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Of the 173 schools that fell short, 129 were in those two jurisdictions, including all of Baltimore's traditional middle schools.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday about Maryland schools failing to meet state standards misstated information about the Carroll County school system. In Carroll, three out of 30 elementary and middle schools failed to make sufficient progress on this year's Maryland School Assessment exams.
The Sun regrets the error.

In Baltimore's suburbs, teachers and principals are still bedeviled by the federal mandate that all groups of children - including special-education pupils, minorities and children from low-income families - meet standards. However, newly relaxed rules regarding disabled children may offer some relief.

Some advances

While low-performing schools in Baltimore tended to fail in many testing areas, suburban schools often missed the mark in just one or two, frequently special education.

State education officials said they were pleased with the progress among some pupils in grades three through eight but would like to see more.

"It's very hard work," said state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick. "My feeling is it is working. There's never been such a focus on the quality of instruction."

The list of schools released yesterday remains tentative, as local officials may appeal for schools that barely fell short. To be included on the list, a school must fail to meet the state goal in the same subject - reading or math - for at least two years in a row.

The longer a school remains on the state's radar, the more onerous the penalties become. In the first two years, schools with large percentages of poor pupils must provide free tutoring or allow transfers to other schools. In the third and fourth year on the list, schools must develop and implement detailed plans to restructure themselves, such as by hiring a turnaround specialist or replacing staff.

Statewide, 11 schools joined the list for the first time. Twenty-two schools - including nine in Baltimore, two in Anne Arundel County and one in Baltimore County - are expected to be promoted off the list because they made two consecutive years of progress.

Partial picture

State officials also said 48 schools turned a corner on this spring's exams and could be removed from the watch list if they meet goals again next year.

The data released yesterday on troubled schools, however, provides only a partial picture. It included only schools that were new to the list; schools that were listed last year and whose status has not changed; and schools that improved enough to be taken off.

State officials declined to name schools that failed to make "adequate yearly progress" for the first time, or even say how many there were. Those schools - to be identified later - may appeal their results and do not face penalties this year.

Adequate yearly progress is a moving target, becoming more difficult each year as states move to meet the No Child Left Behind directive that all public school students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. To make adequate progress this year, more than half of pupils in an elementary school must show proficiency in math and reading. In middle school, more than half of pupils must pass the reading test, and more than a third must pass math.

Special education

In Howard County, 52 of 56 elementary and middle schools hit the state's targets. The four schools that failed - identified by county officials as Cradlerock School, Phelps Luck Elementary and two middle schools, Patuxent Valley and Wilde Lake - missed because either too few special-education pupils or too few non-native English speakers passed.

Howard officials said they would probably appeal for all four schools because a handful of pupils' passing the tests would have made a difference. In the schools that failed because of disabled pupils' performance, officials will argue that they would have been eligible for a "modified" Maryland School Assessment - a shorter and simpler test that 2 percent of disabled students statewide can take next year as a result of relaxed federal rules.

In Anne Arundel, 88 of the county's 98 elementary and middle schools made adequate progress. Two schools face new sanctions for failing to meet standards for a second year, and a third is in a holding pattern because it failed in a different subject than in previous years. Seven others - including five that failed because of special education pupils' performance - missed annual targets for the first time and are to be monitored by local officials.

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