Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell says the school system will promptly examine its approaches to educating students after 21 county schools fell short of annual progress measures set forth by federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
Recently released Maryland School Assessment results showed that six of the county's elementary schools, 14 middle schools and one charter school failed to meet the adequate yearly progress mark.
The figures stood in sharp contrast to the previous year, when all but one elementary school and 14 of 19 middle schools made adequate progress.
As the new school year approaches, Maxwell said, the county is working to ensure that the poor results are not repeated.
The superintendent said Anne Arundel will review its middle school schedule to see whether changes need to be made. Professional development will be examined as well as last year's school improvement plans to see the relationship between the schools' focus and test results.
"If the school was focused on reading and they fell short in math, were they too focused on reading and not focused enough on math?" Maxwell said. "We're going to really start analyzing some data; we are actually starting some of that work right now."
The results come as schools nationwide are four years away from a No Child Left Behind requirement of 100 percent passing marks in all categories that measure student achievement.
"Everyone is concerned about that rising bar," said Maxwell. "That said, knowing that everybody's worried, I am surprised at some of the schools that did not make adequate yearly progress."
Maxwell said he was surprised that so few of the county's middle schools achieved passing marks because the county has worked to address problems there.
He said he also was surprised by the performance at some of the elementary schools.
"When you look at these schools, you don't think of schools that are not doing well, because they are doing well," he said. "They just have fallen short in [certain] categories."
Overall, elementary student scores for the county were mixed, with 91.1 percent scoring proficient or advanced in reading, a 0.3 percentage point decline from last year, and 91.3 percent passing math, a 1.3 percentage point increase.
In middle schools, 85.7 percent of students passed reading, an increase of 0.3 percentage points, while 77.4 percent passed in math, a 1.7 percentage point decrease.
Seventy-nine percent of the county elementary and middle schools met AYP standards, down from 93 percent the year before.
Maxwell suggested several reasons for the dropoff.
"Part of it, I think, is because of the rising bar," he said. "When we first started this No Child Left Behind work, the scores were lower and there was a wide band of what was allowable.
"For example, if your score for annual measurable objective [by the state] was 70 percent, your band of what would give you adequate yearly progress would range from 60 or higher. Today, it's more like … from 67 to 73. The band is much narrower."
Maxwell said the county schools "have more students that are a challenging population for us, and we have to adjust our instructional framework for that."
Despite the numbers, it appears that most parents in Anne Arundel County are pleased with the quality of education their children receive. In a recent survey conducted by the school system, 94 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with county schools and 93 percent said their child's school provided opportunities to express concerns.
More than 14,000 parents participated in the survey, which school officials said is used to gauge whether schools are effectively reaching out to families and informing them about school resources.
With Anne Arundel students still scoring above the state average, the county is still headed in the right direction and this year's results can be remedied, the superintendent said.
"I have confidence in my folks, and I think they're going to redouble their efforts," Maxwell said. "They're going to take a hard look at what has happened over the last year or so and they're going to roll up their sleeves, and we're going to do everything we can to turn us around for next year."
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