More Schools In Md. Fail To Meet Goals

By Lori Aratani and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 17, 2006

A majority of middle schools in the highly regarded Montgomery County system failed to meet performance targets in the past academic year, falling short of benchmarks for special education students and others who come from poor or immigrant families, Maryland officials reported yesterday.

The trends in Montgomery and elsewhere in the state intensified concerns about stagnant test scores in many middle schools, particularly in reading. They also underscored the rising challenge that schools nationwide face in complying with the No Child Left Behind law.

In Prince George's County, for example, 13 schools have failed to meet academic standards for so many years that they must be restructured or have plans to do so. Prince George's and the City of Baltimore each have far more schools rated in need of improvement than any other Maryland system. Together, they account for more than three-quarters of the 167 elementary and middle schools on Maryland's needs-improvement list.

The 2002 federal law requires schools to show "adequate yearly progress" toward the twin goals of closing achievement gaps and getting nearly all students tested to reach grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics. Those who fail to make "AYP" for two years or longer can face consequences including a state-ordered overhaul.

Experts who track the law say states across the country are reporting growing numbers of schools that have missed targets. Virginia and the District expect to report their No Child Left Behind school ratings in the next few weeks. Maryland's high school test scores are due out Monday.

Yesterday, the Maryland State Department of Education reported that 241 elementary and middle schools fell short of academic targets in 2005-06, based on standardized test scores for grades 3 through 8 and student attendance data. That represented an increase of more than 20 percent over the previous annual total of 196.

State officials chose to accent the positive: Four of five elementary and middle schools met standards.

"These gratifying results tell us that students and teachers from across Maryland have been paying attention to improving performance across the board," State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a prepared statement. She said that many elementary schools are making "dramatic progress."

However, state officials express growing concern about middle schools. "Kids get to middle school, and they're not getting everything they need," said Gary Heath, an assistant state superintendent.

In Montgomery, 21 of 38 middle schools missed the targets, according to the new state data. Thirteen Montgomery elementary schools also fell short. In the previous school year, data show, 12 of the county's elementary and middle schools fell short.

Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said that the new state ratings underscored "the level of improvement still needed" in the county's middle schools.

The 139,000-student system is perennially a high performer among large school systems nationwide, based on measures such as graduation rates, SAT scores and Advanced Placement tests. It also serves a population of highly educated, highly motivated and often wealthy families, all of which can be significant factors in student achievement.

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