Test gains in 11 categories

July 16, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special To The Sun

Anne Arundel County posted gains in 11 out of the 12 categories of the Maryland School Assessment, according to results released by the state yesterday, and school officials are crediting a greater focus on data and teacher collaboration.

Seventh-graders saw the biggest improvements on the annual tests given to children in grades three through eight, with the number of students scoring at "advanced" or "proficient" levels rising 9 percentage points over last year in reading and 7.4 points in math. Fifth-graders posted a 7.7 percentage-point increase in reading.

The county continued to outpace the state average, with 90.8 percent of Anne Arundel elementary students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels in reading, and 89.6 percent doing so in math. At the middle school level, the combined passing rate was 80.9 percent in reading and 77.8 percent in math.

"We think the trend was very positive," said county schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell. "We're very encouraged."

He attributed the test results, which are used to grade schools under benchmarks set under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, to a greater focus on testing data and identifying areas of improvement. For example, administrators helped Brooklyn Park Middle School staff work with their counterparts at its feeder elementary schools and high school. The principals of the schools now work together to improve, Maxwell said.

Although he acknowledged the need for more improvement in teaching minority students, Maxwell said the school system is heading in the right direction. Black students, who historically perform at lower rates than their white peers, are slowly closing the gap, following a statewide trend. In 2005, the gap with white students on the reading portion of the exam was 13.4 percentage points overall. This year it narrowed to 8.4 percentage points. In math, the gap shrank from 12.8 points in 2005 to 9.7 points this year.

In elementary schools, the number of black students passing the reading portion climbed 5.6 percentage points. In middle schools, the number passing reading went up by 8.6 percentage points.

"We are very consistent and very steady, and we're very pleased with that," Maxwell said.

Among individual schools, Eastport Elementary School reported the largest gain in the county with a jump of 40 percentage points in the number of fifth-graders scoring proficient or advanced in reading, from 47.1 percent to 87.5 percent.

Maxwell said some of that is the result of a stable population of teachers and students who became more comfortable with the assessments. Principal Lynne Evans could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Other schools with substantial gains included Belle Grove Elementary in Brooklyn Park, Freetown Elementary in Pasadena and Georgetown East Elementary and Bates Middle in Annapolis.

At Freetown, 93.4 percent of third-graders passed the math test, up 18.8 points, and 93.8 percent of fourth-graders passed it, up nearly 5 percentage points. In reading, third- and fifth-graders showed double-digit boosts, but fourth-graders showed a 10-point decline, to 75.5 percent.

Principal Shirley Moaney attributed the decline to a greater number of special education students in the fourth grade.

"The teaching of reading is much more complex than the teaching of math," she said.

Overall, Moaney said that she was happy with her school's performance. She said she had teachers focus on teaching to state standards and constantly analyzing testing data to see how they could improve.

At Brooklyn Park Middle School, the number of seventh-graders who scored proficient or advanced in math increased to 77.4 percent this year. Ray Bibeault, the principal until last month, said that the results improved because of better teacher collaboration and midday study halls where students could catch up on missed homework or get extra instruction.

"We get really concerned about what we're teaching instead of who we're teaching," said Bibeault, now senior manager for school improvement for the school system. "Keeping the kid first in the instruction is what makes the difference."

The approach applied to every subject, Bibeault said. He encouraged teachers to watch students closely in class so they could identify which subjects needed extra attention.

"Too often we find out late that the kids haven't learned what we thought they've learned," Bibeault said.

Special education students also did better on the Alternative Maryland School Assessment, or ALT-MSA. Reading scores rose 2.7 percentage points at the middle school level and 1.1 points at the elementary school level. In math, students posted a 2 percentage point increase at the middle level. Scores fell 2.5 percentage points, however, in elementary math.

School breakdown

For a school-by-school breakdown on how Anne Arundel County students scored on the state tests, see pages 12A and 13A in today's Sun.

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