Tuesday’s data showed 43.7 percent of students statewide reached proficiency levels in English in grades three to eight last school year — a gain of more than two points.
Math was a different story, with statewide declines for grades five to eight and in Algebra 1. As with English, more than half of students statewide did not pass key math exams.
“We have some real work to do in terms of our mathematics results,” Karen B. Salmon, state superintendent of schools, told the Maryland State Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting.
In the Washington suburbs, Montgomery County — with Maryland’s largest school system — outperformed the state, with 53 percent of elementary and middle school students reaching the benchmark on English exams. The number was more than two points higher than a year ago.
Performance was down in Montgomery in seventh-grade math, Algebra 1 and English 10.
Neighboring Prince George’s County, with the state’s second-largest school system, posted numbers that were lower than state passing rates but mirrored state trends — with progress in English and declines on most math exams.
Thirty-one percent of Prince George’s students in grades three to eight showed proficiency on English exams, an increase of nearly two points. Math performance was poorest in middle school and for Algebra 1, which had a passing rate of about 10 percent.
Monica Goldson, chief executive of the Prince George’s County school system, noted progress in English scores in a letter to the community and said efforts to improve further are in the works.
“Our results mirror the gains and losses the state displayed last year and will require a deeper analysis,” she wrote, adding that school officials spent time over the summer revising math curriculum documents and other instructional materials. Each school developed a performance plan, and a districtwide plan is being finalized, she said.
Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jack Smith described the state tests as “one of several important measures” to monitor progress and said he was pleased to see continued improvement.
“However, we know more must be done to address areas where we are seeing decreases in performance and ensure all students have the access, opportunity and intentional instruction they need to be successful,” he said in a statement.
Statewide, black and Hispanic students posted increases in English-language arts, with passing-rate increases of about two percentage points. Students with disabilities and English-language learners showed smaller gains, inching up in English and math.
Achievement gaps have been stark between white students and their peers of color in Maryland — and state board member David M. Steiner, an education professor at Johns Hopkins University, pointed out that the gap has not narrowed and in fact increased from 2015 to 2019 for black and Hispanic students.
“That is really difficult news,” he said.
The results mark the end of Maryland’s experience with PARCC exams.
Last year, the state decided to move away from PARCC — named for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — amid complaints that the exams were too long and disruptive to schools. Many critics associated PARCC with over-testing, a flash point nationally. And teachers complained that the results were slow in coming, making them less useful in classroom instruction.
The state’s new standardized tests will be called MCAP — for Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program — and state officials say those exams will be based on the same high-level standards and rigorous curriculum as PARCC tests. Teachers have been involved in helping to write items for the tests, they said.
PARCC exams are scored on a five-point scale. Scores of four or five show students have met or exceeded expectations, which the state board considers a show of proficiency.
The scores released Tuesday marked the fifth year of PARCC results, and state officials pointed to notable math gains over time in grades three, four and five. English increases stood out in grades four, six, seven and eight, they said.
Scores for English 10 were fairly flat statewide, but a state analysis found a more than four-point increase for first-time test-takers. Some students take the test more than once because a passing score is required for graduation. Similarly, Algebra 1 gets repeat test-takers, a large share of whom fail to reach proficiency.
“We are making progress in some areas,” said Carol Williamson, the state’s chief academic officer.
For grades three to eight, Montgomery ranked seventh among Maryland’s 24 school systems in English, and Prince George’s was 23rd. In math, Montgomery remained seventh while Prince George’s was 22nd. At the top were Worcester County, which includes Ocean City, and Carroll County, northwest of Baltimore.