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Md. Schools Show Gains On Test Scores

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By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Maryland's elementary and middle schools improved reading and mathematics test scores for a second straight year, with black and Hispanic students closing achievement gaps in some key measures, according to state data made public yesterday.

Results from the 2005 Maryland School Assessments were seen as encouraging for one of the Washington area's lowest-ranked school systems. Prince George's County built on the previous year's solid gains, with scores rising for nearly every group of students.

But statewide results showed far more progress in the earlier grades than in the later grades, raising the urgency of efforts to overhaul middle schools after years in which educators have focused on the elementary level.

More than three-quarters of students in grades 3 and 4, for example, scored at a proficient or advanced level in reading and math. But barely half of the state's eighth-graders, just 52 percent, did that well in math.

"Now we have to really focus on reform in middle school," said Frieda Lacey, a Montgomery County deputy superintendent.

The results also showed some school systems beginning to close what might be called a geographic achievement gap.

In Prince George's, 63 percent of third-graders reached proficiency or better in reading, lower than the statewide level of 76 percent. But it represented an enormous 24-point jump from the county's proficiency rating two years ago and a faster rate of increase than the state average.

In Montgomery and Howard counties, with affluent and highly ranked suburban school systems, the challenge was to push high scores even higher. In Montgomery, 79 percent of third-graders reached proficiency or better in reading, and in Howard, 88 percent did. More than 20 percent of Montgomery's third-graders and more than 30 percent of Howard's scored at an advanced level in reading.

"We are encouraged by this progress," state School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said in a telephone interview.

Grasmick ascribed the higher test scores to a voluntary statewide curriculum that has helped students adjust when they move from one county to another. She also said teachers and principals are growing accustomed to the state assessments, which have now been administered three times.

The Maryland tests, given in March, are the most significant factor in determining whether the state's 24 school systems and roughly 1,050 elementary and middle schools are meeting increasingly tough annual performance standards established under the No Child Left Behind law President Bush signed in 2002.

The federal ratings for Maryland elementary and middle schools are expected to be released next week. Officials caution that these ratings, using a benchmark known in education circles as "adequate yearly progress," may trip up many schools even if their scores have improved. Ratings for Maryland high schools and schools in Virginia and the District are due in the summer.

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