Elementary schools that serve some of Montgomery County's poorest children are showing significant progress, with students mastering the critical reading and mathematics skills they need under requirements put forth by the No Child Left Behind Act, according to preliminary state reports released this week.

Fifteen of Montgomery County's 17 Title I schools, which have high concentrations of low-income children, made their achievement targets for the 2005 school year.

"We're very happy with the results," said Jose Stevenson, coordinator of testing for the school district. "Elementary schools did very well."

Stevenson said officials were particularly pleased by the performance of Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring, which was at risk of state intervention if it did not make its achievement target this year. The school met its target, and if it can do so again in 2006, it will be removed from the list of schools being monitored.

The adequate yearly progress (AYP) report is designed to tell communities how well their schools are doing in their efforts to offer a high-quality education to students from all racial and economic backgrounds.

Under No Child Left Behind, all students -- regardless of background -- must show progress in reading, math and other academic areas. Schools that fail to meet targets for two consecutive years are put on "school improvement" status lists. If the schools fail to make progress, they can be taken over by the state. Students at Title I schools are given the option of transferring to higher-achieving schools if their home school does not meet the mark for two consecutive years. Special tutoring and other services must be offered in subsequent years.

Of the system's 125 elementary schools, 117 (94 percent) reached their targets this year. That number is down slightly from the previous year, when 119 made the cut, but up significantly from 2003, when only 103 reached their achievement targets.

Of the Title I schools, Highland View Elementary in Silver Spring and East Silver Spring Elementary did not meet their targets.

At the middle school level, 19 of the district's 36 schools met their academic targets. System officials noted the number of schools meeting the target could increase because recent changes to federal regulations governing special education were not taken into account when the state made these calculations. The school system plans to appeal the matter.

Even so, Montgomery County educators said more work must be done to improve the quality of education that middle school students receive. All three of the schools that have failed to meet their achievement targets for two or more consecutive years are middle schools.

According to the preliminary report, two middle schools -- Col. E. Brooke Lee in Silver Spring and Shady Grove in Gaithersburg -- have failed to make progress in reading for two consecutive years. At Lee, educators are now required to write a detailed plan for helping Hispanic students reach the target in reading, and at Shady Grove, educators must do the same to help disadvantaged children in reading.

One middle school, Silver Spring International, has failed to meet achievement targets in reading and math for black, Hispanic, poor and special education students. This is the third year that the school has failed to meet its AYP goals in those areas. It will be required to write a plan to address the achievement issue or face more serious action if the school fails to reach its AYP goal in 2006.

A number of schools that were on school improvement lists because they failed to meet their targets for two consecutive years made their achievement targets in 2005. They include Clopper Mill Elementary School (in Germantown) and Piney Branch Elementary (Takoma Park); Eastern Middle School (Silver Spring), Parkland Middle (Rockville) and White Oak Middle (Silver Spring); and Mark Twain, an alternative school in Rockville. If these campuses meet their achievement targets in 2006, they will be taken off the school improvement list.

There was good news for Highland Elementary, which was placed on the "corrective action" list in 2004 for failing to meet achievement targets for four consecutive years. ("Corrective action" is the final step before the school is eligible for state takeover.) This year, Highland met its AYP target and, while the school remains on the "corrective action" list, it will be removed from the list if it meets its target again in 2006.

High school AYP reports will be released later this year after passing scores are set for the 10th-grade English assessment test.

For more details, visit www.marylandpublicschools.org/msde.