More Maryland public school students passed their annual reading and math tests this year in nearly every grade, but the news was especially good for black students, who made greater progress than whites.
Across the state, 70 percent of African-Americans are now passing the Maryland School Assessments in grades three through five. That figure is still well below the 89 percent pass rate for white students, but the gap is getting smaller.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sun misstated which groups of students in Howard County scored at least 70 percent proficient in reading on the Maryland School Assessments. For the first time in the system's history, every student subgroup within the fourth grade met that standard.
"That is something to celebrate," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, who said Maryland has done far better than many states in shrinking the gap.
This year in Maryland, 372,000 students in grades three through eight took the tests as part of the requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The percentage of students passing the MSA increased in most grades, although scores were flat in third-grade math and fourth-grade reading.
Middle-schoolers - students in grades six, seven and eight - improved their scores slightly over the past year, but they are still far behind the elementary students. Only 57 percent of eighth-graders passed the math test, while 68 percent passed reading.
Statewide, 81 percent of students in elementary grades passed the reading and math tests, and at dozens of elementary schools more than 95 percent of students are passing the tests.
The increase from year to year is getting smaller, officials said, because so many students already are scoring well.
Among the test results:
Of the top 10 highest-scoring elementary schools in the state, four were in Montgomery County, three were in Baltimore County, two were in Anne Arundel and one was in Howard County, according to an analysis by The Sun of composite scores.
In the metro area, Carroll Manor in Baltimore County had the highest composite pass rate, according to the Sun analysis. At Carroll Manor, 98 percent of students passed the state tests. An additional 162 elementary schools throughout the state had 90 percent or more of their students passing the tests.
Baltimore City scores rose in every grade and subject in elementary schools this year, and fourth- and fifth-grade math scores saw double-digit increases. In middle schools, scores increased slightly but are still far below the statewide averages. Less than half of city middle-schoolers passed any of the tests in seventh and eighth grades.
While every student is given his or her scores, the tests are particularly crucial for schools that are held accountable if they do not make progress every year for all students and groups of students such as minorities and those for whom English is a second language.
Lags in African-American achievement have confounded educators nationwide as they try to comply with federal legislation that holds schools accountable for raising standards for minorities, special education students and children from low-income families.
Not only did the number of black students passing the test rise quickly in the state, so did the numbers of students in other groups. Special education students have started to make good gains in the early grades, apparently the result of more of those students being put into regular classrooms.
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she thinks minorities are doing better on the tests because their teachers are demanding more of them.
"We think in a lot of instances there have not been the expectations," Grasmick said. Students and schools with high percentages of minorities weren't expected to do as well academically as children in predominantly white and suburban schools. She noted that some schools, such as George Washington Elementary and the Crossroads School in Baltimore, and Sandy Plains and Woodmoor elementaries in Baltimore County, have been able to make gains by raising the bar.
Jennings, while praising the improvements, said the state must redouble its efforts to make the gap between black and white achievement disappear.
Grasmick pointed out that middle school results for students of all races remain a problem for school systems across the state.
"We still have more challenges in the middle schools," she said. In the past year, changes have been made in training for middle school teachers, and many systems are focusing on putting more qualified teachers in those years rather than working on the assumption that any elementary or high school teacher is prepared to teach the quirky age.
Those changes, she said, should begin to be seen in test score increases in the coming years.
Across the state, most school systems increased their scores overall, but there were numerous instances of dips in scores in particular grades in reading or math.