Md. students show improvement in reading and math

While federal lawmakers debate how to rewrite what teachers and politicians agree is an unrealistic law that expects all students to perform on grade level by 2014, students in Maryland continue a steady climb toward the goal.

Performance improved statewide this year for elementary students in reading and for middle school students in math, according to results of the Maryland State Assessments released Wednesday. The exams were given to more than 360,000 students in third through eighth grades.

“Thanks to the hard work and commitment of our educators, students and parents, we can sustain and build upon the gains we’ve made for every student and every school in Maryland,” Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said in a statement.

Reading gains were significant in Prince George’s County. After a few years of modest growth, the portion of Prince George’s elementary students scoring proficient or better in reading climbed to 82 percent, up from 79 percent last year. On middle school math tests, long a weak point, students also made notable improvement. The pass rate for seventh-grade students jumped six points to 60 percent. For eighth-graders, the pass rate increased by three points to 44 percent, though it remains far below the state average.

“I’m proud of the progress we are making,” said Prince George’s Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., said in a statement. He attributed the gains to improvements in teaching by analyzing individual test score data and reviewing or re-teaching accordingly, “ensuring that our students have the necessary skills to succeed.”

New elementary reading programs that pace lessons according to individual needs also could be contributing to the improvement, said testing director Paul Mazza. Middle school math scores, in spite of improvements, continue to be “our area of greatest concern,” he said, adding that school officials are conducting a year-long study of the county’s middle schools to find ways to do better.

The breakthrough in scores offered new confidence that school improvement efforts are paying off, and that even in high-performing areas, schools can do better.

In Montgomery County, where performance has been higher, gains have been smaller. The pass rate on elementary and middle school reading tests rose by one point over the past year to 92 percent and 90 percent respectively. Hispanic and African African American students saw slightly bigger gains.

President Obama has called on Congress to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that sets proficiency goals for the nation’s students. Obama has proposed changes to make it more flexible, and to reward students for showing growth in their learning through the course of the year.

Many educators think that approach would be more fair, especially when measuring special education and poor students who come to school with skills far below grade level.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in Northern Virginia.
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