Test scores rise

Maryland School Assessment

July 15, 2008|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun reporter

Statewide test scores for African-American and low-income children rose significantly this year and are moving closer to parity with other students, according to data released today by state education officials.

The Maryland scores were buoyed by large gains in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, where there are large black and poor populations, but the trend was also seen in Anne Arundel County and other areas of the state.

For the fifth year in a row, scores improved across the state on the Maryland School Assessment, a test given in grades three through eight, as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Last school year, 86 percent of elementary students passed the reading test and 84 percent passed the math. Howard, Carroll and Worcester counties have the highest percentage of students passing the tests: 90 percent or more in many grades and subjects. State officials said they were particularly pleased because more students statewide are not just passing the tests but are scoring in the advanced category. In fifth grade, for instance, more students statewide are scoring "advanced" in reading than those who are scored "proficient."

But the greatest improvement in Central Maryland was in Baltimore City, which had some of the largest one-year gains in test scores in the past decade, particularly in middle school.

"We are very pleased with the percentage of growth in Prince George's and Baltimore City," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. But she said there has been improvement in scores for minority and poor children in every county.

The achievement gap between minority and white students has been one of the most intractable problems in education, and it remains an issue in Maryland. African-American students today are passing tests at the same percentage as white students were five years ago.

However, the fact that the gap has been narrowing fastest in Maryland elementary schools is an indication, education officials said, that the additional money the state has poured into early education is paying off. State officials also believe that a state curriculum for many grades and subjects has helped improve teaching.

Last year, black elementary students gained nearly 8 percentage points in reading, one of the largest one-year gains for them since the test was given in 2004.

In 2003, there was a 33 percentage-point gap between the achievement of white and black students in elementary math; today that gap is down to 17.6 points and nearly three-quarters of African-American students are passing the state math test.

The achievement gap has been narrowing nationally, according to the Center on Education Policy, which analyzed years of data.

Maryland is one of a handful of states that has seen the gap narrow more quickly, according to Jack Jennings, president of the center.

The center was not able to say what caused the trend, but Jennings said low-performing schools with many poor children spend more time on reading and math at the expense of other subjects.

Other groups of students, which have been targeted for special attention under the federal law, also made particular gains. Students learning English and Hispanic students as well as those who are poor passed the test in much higher percentages. For instance, 76 percent of poor students passed the elementary school reading tests this year. Special education students gained as well, but there improvement has been much slower.

Baltimore City had historic gains, according to school system officials. Its seventh-graders stood out with an 18 percentage point gain just this year on reading. "Coming in the middle school, where everyone in the nation is having such difficulty impacting outcomes, this is just good news," said Andres Alonso, the schools' chief executive officer.

The Baltimore County elementary schools posted modest, but steady, gains in reading and math. In general, the state's third-largest school system scored at or slightly above the statewide averages.

The county's largest jump appeared in fifth-grade reading, where the proportion of students passing increased nearly 9 percentage points over last year.

Nearly two dozen Baltimore County schools achieved passing rates of 100 percent on one or both of the exams, including Riderwood Elementary near Towson, where about 93 percent of the school's fifth-graders earned "advanced" scores on the reading test.

Baltimore County's middle schools made significant strides this year. The largest gain came in seventh-grade reading, with nearly 82 percent of students passing - about 14 percentage points higher than last year.

Kara E.B. Calder, spokeswoman for Baltimore County schools, said the system experienced similar progress among its minority and poor children as the state as a whole.

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