Anne Arundel students improved across the board on the 2005 Maryland School Assessment, posting gains in reading and math in grades three through eight. The sole exception: a one-point decline in seventh-grade reading.

In the county as a whole, the share of students showing proficiency in reading across the grade levels rose to 79 percent in 2005, up from 75 percent in 2004 and 68 percent in 2003. The share showing proficiency in math rose to 75 percent, up from 68 percent last year and 59 percent in 2003.

"What you're seeing today is the work of teachers and kids without the bureaucratic framework laid over it," said Eric J. Smith, the Anne Arundel superintendent since 2002, alluding to the federal No Child Left Behind initiative that rates academic progress based on tests such as the MSA.

Anne Arundel teachers "haven't just done well -- they've done extraordinarily well with our children," Smith said.

Smith radically overhauled teaching methods in Anne Arundel three years ago, introducing new reading and math programs, placing teachers on a common pacing guide, expanding advanced coursework and putting middle and high schools on double-length class schedules.

Those changes, all controversial, are likely to reap more support from teachers and parents after two years of steadily rising test scores, say school system officials. In part, though, the improvement is an inevitable result of students and teachers becoming more familiar with the MSA, introduced in spring 2003.

Students in grades three through eight take the MSA in reading and math each March. Test-takers can be rated advanced, proficient or basic on the MSA according to their performance. Smith has set a goal of attaining 85 percent proficiency or better by 2007.

Some grade levels and many individual schools have already met that goal.

Countywide, the share of students performing at the top two levels on the test surpassed 85 percent this year in fourth-grade reading and in third- and fourth-grade math.

Five elementary schools in Anne Arundel achieved 95 percent proficiency in fifth-grade reading on the MSA, meaning that only 5 percent of students performed at the basic level. The five schools are Broadneck Elementary in Arnold, Crofton Meadows, Crofton Woods, Folger McKinsey in Severna Park and South Shore in Crownsville.

Six elementary school attained 95 percent proficiency in fifth-grade math: Arnold Elementary, Benfield in Severna Park, Folger McKinsey, Jones in Severna Park, Lake Shore in Pasadena and South Shore.

Middle school performance was less remarkable. The share of students showing proficiency in reading countywide was essentially unchanged in sixth and seventh grades and rose significantly only in eighth grade, to 73 percent from 68 percent. Math results improved in all three grades, but the scores were lower to begin with; no grade level posted a proficiency rate exceeding 70 percent.

"The middle school is going to continue to be a major focus and a great deal of work in Anne Arundel County," Smith said.

Some of the most dramatic gains came among African American students, one of the crucial subgroups whose academic progress are central to No Child Left Behind.

In third-grade reading, for example, the share of black students in Anne Arundel showing proficiency reached 69 percent in 2005, up from 45 percent two years ago. In eighth-grade math, proficiency among blacks tripled, from 16 percent in 2003 to 46 percent in 2005.

At Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, a high-poverty school placed on a state watch list for sub-par performance, the proficiency rate in third-grade reading rose from about one-third in 2003 to about half in 2004 and reached 84 percent in 2005. More than 90 percent of black students at Tyler Heights showed proficiency this year.

"They are completely breaking out of that mold now, and they are going to be in good standing with the state and with us," said Roy Skiles, assistant superintendent for school administration services.