Two schools in St. Mary's County failed to meet standards on statewide tests for the second straight year and were placed on a state watch list of schools in need of improvement, according to state reports released this week.
Spring Ridge Middle School and George Washington Carver Elementary School, both in Lexington Park, were the only schools in Southern Maryland to make the list, which means they did not score high enough on the Maryland School Assessment tests and face more stringent oversight and possible sanctions if they don't improve. At the same time, Greenview Knolls Elementary School in Great Mills was taken off the list of schools needing improvement after two years of passing the tests.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must demonstrate adequate yearly progress toward the goal of making all students proficient in reading and math. Overall, four schools in Calvert, one in Charles and four in St. Mary's did not make sufficient progress. Schools are placed on the watch list if they fall short two years in a row.
At Spring Ridge, black students did not meet the standards in reading and math. At Carver, scores among special education students fell short, and students who receive free or reduced-price meals did not score high enough on reading tests.
In response to being placed on the watch list, both schools will have a team of educators intervene to identify how students can improve, and Spring Ridge will create the position of academic dean to oversee instruction, said Lorraine Fulton, interim superintendent of schools in St. Mary's.
"The MSA scores have increased beautifully in the two schools, but they're not where they need to be to meet the AYP," or adequate yearly progress, Fulton said. Carver is a feeder school for Spring Ridge, Fulton said. "You see it's the same population, and they just have a lot of challenges that some of our other schools don't have to the same degree."
In eighth-grade math at Spring Ridge, for example, 19.4 percent of black students scored proficient on the tests, and none scored at the advanced level. For white eighth-graders at the school, 35.2 percent scored proficient, and 7.4 percent were advanced.
Not meeting the standards under the No Child Left Behind law often comes down to a small number of students, said Spring Ridge Principal Sharon Brown. Of the 306 black students at her school, 21 did not score high enough in reading and six in math, she said.
"It's very stringent in terms of guidelines," she said. "My teachers work so hard, and I've been in 12 schools in this county."
Still, she said, "we're going to really target those populations" that have fallen behind. In addition to the intervention by the "technical assistance team" and the new academic dean to work with teachers to try to boost achievement, Brown plans to implement an "interactive homework" program, with assignments designed to have parental input. Five teachers at the school are helping to design the assignments, she said.
Two other St. Mary's schools -- Lexington Park Elementary School and Margaret Brent Middle School in Helen -- also failed to meet the standards but did not go on the state watch list because this is their first substandard year.
Among Charles County's elementary and middle schools, all but one showed sufficient progress on the standardized tests. Special education students at General Smallwood Middle School in Indian Head missed the mark in reading. Black students and special education students did not reach the level required in math.
John Cox, assistant superintendent for instruction, said students are struggling with math problems, for instance, that involve reading comprehension and written explanations for how they solved problems. Teachers and staff members have been working since February to come up with strategies to improve student scores.
"Predominantly, the issue is reading and writing," Cox said. "We'll go into action next fall."
Two Charles County schools that were singled out last year for failing to meet Maryland's benchmarks -- Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School in Waldorf and Piccowaxen Middle School in Newburg -- improved their scores this year and are no longer considered in need of special attention.
Cox called those results a "tremendous victory."
"A lot of people complain about No Child Left Behind and make excuses," he said. "We've always embraced it, saying it's all about kids and getting them to be successful."
Calvert County school officials also were happy that none of their schools were placed on the watch list.
"We're really pleased with the overall performance of our school system and its relative standing in the state," said Ted Haynie, director of system performance in Calvert.
Still, the state reported that four Calvert schools failed to make adequate yearly progress in special education categories: Mill Creek Middle School in Lusby, St. Leonard Elementary School, Beach Elementary School in Chesapeake Beach and Patuxent Elementary School in Lusby.
But Haynie said the school system has noticed some inconsistencies in the test results data and is appealing to the state Department of Education. Because the number of special education students is so small, a slight error in the results could mean the difference between meeting the state criteria for progress or falling short.
"In Beach Elementary's case, one student made the difference," Haynie said.
Two schools in Calvert -- Southern and Mill Creek middle schools, both in Lusby -- failed to reach proficiency in special education categories last year.
Mill Creek did not move to the more serious watch list because the category it failed in this year -- special education math -- is different from the category it failed in last year -- special education reading.
Southern Middle avoided further sanctions because it reduced the number of students scoring in the lowest category by 10 percent, allowing it to reach a designation known as "Safe Harbor," Haynie said.
Staff writer Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.