A June 21 Metro article incorrectly reported the number of Montgomery County Title I schools meeting state standards on this year's Maryland School Assessment. Fifteen of the schools, not all 17, met the standards. (Published 6/23/05)

Nearly 40 Prince George's County schools face tougher oversight and possible sanctions after falling short of state standards on test scores, officials announced yesterday. That amounted to about 40 percent of Maryland's elementary and middle schools in such straits.

But one Prince George's high-poverty school and six others from Montgomery County improved enough to move off the state's watch list.

The announcement showed how this year's Maryland School Assessment scores in reading and mathematics are reverberating through school systems. Statewide, the accountability vise is tightening for nearly 100 schools rated as needing improvement, while more than 20 are moving off the list. Among the latter are two schools in Anne Arundel County and one in St. Mary's County.

The watch list, a key performance index under the federal No Child Left Behind law, has consequences other than public relations. High-poverty schools that miss standards two years in a row must allow students to move to a school with better scores. Others that have languished on the watch list for several years must plan or carry out a state-monitored overhaul.

Of 1,102 elementary and middle schools statewide, the total on the watch list dipped this year to 173, from 179. State education officials said the new accountability ratings reflect a promising trend. Two weeks ago, they had announced an across-the-board rise in test scores and a narrowing of significant racial and ethnic achievement gaps.

"Overall, I think there is progress," State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a conference call with reporters. "I think we have more work to do."

But officials added that this year's standards for "adequate progress" toward the federal goal of near-universal student proficiency by 2014 were significantly stiffer than those of the previous two years. They likened the 2005 target to a "step and a half" up from 2004.

In addition, state officials for the first time used test results from grades 4, 6 and 7 for year-to-year comparisons. The Maryland School Assessment test was launched in 2003 in grades 3, 5 and 8 and was given in grades 3 through 8 in 2004 and 2005.

"The way I look at it, we have decreased the number of schools that are in 'school improvement,' " said Gary Heath, assistant state superintendent for testing and accountability. "And we've done it in a year that was going to be the most challenging year for us."

Test scores and accountability ratings for public schools are expected this summer in Virginia and the District. So are data on Maryland's high schools.

The ratings announced yesterday, which draw on test scores for several subgroups of students and attendance data, are preliminary. Local school officials can appeal until July 14. State officials, expecting appeals, declined to release statewide totals of the number of schools that made or failed to make adequate yearly progress. Instead, they released information about the watch list. Schools join the watch list after failing to make adequate yearly progress in a given category two years in a row; they leave it after meeting standards two straight years.

A Washington Post analysis of data on a state Web site showed that about 260 schools failed to make adequate progress in 2005.

Some schools are expected to take advantage of a federal regulatory decision to allow new flexibility for certain disabled students in special education who next year would qualify for a modified state exam. Adjusting scores for some of those students, if appeals are successful, might enable more schools to meet the standards.

In Prince George's, where scores rose for a second straight year, some schools fell agonizingly short. "I can perhaps pull 10 cases right now where the difference in meeting AYP and not meeting AYP is a single child," said Prince George's chief accountability officer Leroy Tompkins.

Tompkins lauded Doswell E. Brooks Elementary in Capitol Heights for moving off the watch list, one of 22 schools statewide to do so. "But there is also some concern on the other side, as well," he said. Six county schools moved onto the watch list: Samuel P. Massie Elementary in Forestville, Gwynn Park Middle in Brandywine, Forest Heights Elementary, Apple Grove Elementary in Fort Washington, John Carroll Elementary in Landover and High Bridge Elementary in Bowie.

In all, 39 Prince George's schools joined the list or moved into further stages of oversight. That was a large proportion of the 95 schools statewide that will fall under closer scrutiny and possible sanctions. An additional 19 Prince George's schools remained on the watch list at their current level of oversight.

Only the Baltimore City system had comparably low ratings, with 34 schools forced into stricter oversight and about the same number (33, plus two more in the city run by the Edison Partnership) fixed on the watch list at status quo.

Montgomery school officials celebrated data showing that several once-struggling elementary schools made adequate progress this year. For the first time, all 17 of the school system's Title I schools -- those serving large numbers of poor children -- met state standards. Six such Montgomery elementary schools left the state watch list: Harmony Hills, Kemp Mill and Weller Road in Silver Spring; Gaithersburg and Rosemont in Gaithersburg; and Wheaton Woods in Rockville.

"We're elated," said Jose Stevenson, Montgomery's school testing coordinator. "For several years, we've been working very hard at the primary levels."

But among Montgomery middle schools, the state added Shady Grove in Gaithersburg and Col. E. Brooke Lee in Silver Spring to the watch list. Silver Spring International Middle also will fall under closer oversight.

In Howard County, which had one school on the watch list, four schools failed to meet standards. In Anne Arundel County, 10 schools fell short, including three on the watch list. Two high-poverty Anne Arundel elementary schools -- Freetown in Glen Burnie and Tyler Heights in Annapolis -- improved enough to leave the list.

Staff writers Daniel de Vise and Ylan Q. Mui contributed to this report.