Southern Maryland's public school systems generally met the state criteria for progress on standardized reading and math tests, according to state data released this week.
Maryland has established standards that each school must meet to show it is making "adequate yearly progress" and performing proficiently on the Maryland School Assessment tests, which students take each spring.
Across the state, nearly 200 public schools -- more than one-third of them in Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- failed to meet those standards. But in Southern Maryland, just seven schools -- two in Calvert, two in Charles and three in St. Mary's -- missed the performance mark this year.
"We're right on target," said Charles County Superintendent James E. Richmond. "We're doing everything we can to make sure we meet the expectations of the Maryland assessments."
The performance targets, mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, are applied to several subgroups within schools, including racial and ethnic groups, low-income children, special education students, and those who speak limited English. A school must have every subgroup reach the standards to pass as a whole, and each year, the standards get increasingly stringent.
In Charles County, at Piccowaxen Middle School, African American students and special education students did not, as groups, meet the proficiency standards in reading this year. Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary also missed the mark for reading among special education students.
"We've already worked with them on their school improvement plans," Richmond said. "We have efforts in place to address special education scores."
In St. Mary's County, Benjamin Banneker Elementary and George Washington Carver Elementary failed to meet the special education reading standard for the first time this year. But Superintendent Patricia M. Richardson said that with one more proficient student at Banneker, and two more at Carver, the schools would have met the state goals.
"It's a signal we need to continue moving forward, strengthening the quality of instruction, but it's not a signal that there needs to be a complete overhaul," she said.
Spring Ridge Middle School missed the reading standards for special education and limited-income students. It was the second year of below-standard performance for the school, placing it on a list of schools needing improvement.
Richardson said a "technical assistance team," made up of central office staff members and instruction supervisors, will work at the school, analyzing testing data and areas where teacher training could be improved as well as monitoring student progress. A similar program has been in place at Greenview Knolls Elementary, and Richardson said the intervention led to widespread improvement there on standardized tests.
"You can't just wait until this test comes around in the spring, you have to monitor year-round," she said.
Two schools in Southern Maryland -- Appeal Elementary in Calvert and Lexington Park Elementary in St. Mary's -- showed enough improvement for two consecutive years to be taken off the "school improvement" list.
At Appeal, the addition of Principal Laurie Haynie brought "new energy to the building and some new expectations," said Carol Reid, assistant superintendent for instruction in Calvert County.
"There were some very, very focused interventions in the areas of reading and math," Reid said. "And a determination on the part of that staff that they didn't like the label [of a struggling school]. They worked overtime to show that they were better than that."
The schools that dipped below the standards this year in Calvert -- Southern Middle School and Mill Creek Middle School -- failed to reach proficiency in special education reading, according to data from the state.
Overall, 14 percent of public schools in Maryland -- 199 out of 1,430 -- did not meet state requirements. Last year, 37 percent failed to reach the standards. This year's results are based on reading and math tests taken by third-, fifth-, and eighth-graders, as well as a 10th-grade reading test. Schools that continually fail to reach the standards may have to pay for tutoring their students or allow children to transfer to higher-performing schools.
The challenge to meet state standards will only become tougher in coming years, as the performance bar is raised several percentage points. By 2014, all students will be expected to reach proficiency levels.
"It never stops," Richmond said. "You can't go backwards, we've got to continue to go forward."