Test Scores Suggest Success In Middle School Instruction

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Middle schools, forever castigated as the weak link in public education, have made steady progress on Maryland's standardized test, and well over half of the students at the top campuses in the state's Washington suburbs have earned the highest rating on the exam.

An analysis of 2007 Maryland School Assessment scores for suburban middle schools finds ample evidence of improvement, with some schools posting dramatic gains and comparatively few losing ground. The results defy conventional wisdom, which portrays middle schools as laggards in the field of school reform.

At Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac, 71 percent of students who took the MSA last spring scored at the highest of three performance levels, advanced, and 25 percent scored in the middle level, proficient. In 2006, by contrast, at no middle school in the eight-county region did more than 63 percent of students score advanced on the MSA.

The numbers of students scoring proficient and advanced on the MSA are added to measure "proficiency," the standard by which schools are judged under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The lowest-scoring level, basic, does not count toward proficiency.

At 13 schools in Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, half or more of the students scored advanced on last year's test. Fourteen schools, representing those counties and Frederick, saw at least 90 percent of students attain proficiency.

"Those are not weak links," said Stephen Bedford, chief school performance officer in Montgomery.

The analysis was conducted by The Washington Post to synthesize voluminous test results into two overall scores for each school, representing the proportions of students who scored advanced on MSA tests in reading and math in the middle school grades, 6 through 8, and those who scored proficient or advanced and therefore attained proficiency.

The eight counties included in The Post's comparison are Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's.

The analysis omitted some schools, notably in Prince George's, that serve one or more middle grades but not all three.

Maryland middle schools have made consistent, albeit small, gains on the test in each of the past two years. The share of students statewide scoring advanced has risen from 22 percent to 25 percent from 2005 to 2007, while the share attaining proficiency has grown from 62 percent to 67 percent.

That is not to say middle schools have quite kept pace with elementary schools, which are generally regarded as superior performers. In the elementary grades, 27 percent of Maryland students rated advanced in 2007, and 81 percent were counted as proficient.

In Montgomery, the share of students scoring advanced in middle schools rose from 33 percent in 2006 to 37 percent in 2007. In Prince George's, the share attaining proficiency rose from 51 percent to 55 percent. St. Mary's County had a three-point gain in both advanced and proficient performance.

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