Larry A. Bowers, schools interim superintendent in Montgomery County, discusses his operating budget recommendation. (Donna St. George/The Washington Post)

Fewer than 40 percent of Maryland students in grades three through eight met or exceeded expectations on Maryland’s new standardized tests in math and English, indicating that a significant majority of the state’s students are not considered on track for the next grade and eventual college readiness, according new state data.

The figures come as part of a first wave of results for testing linked to the Common Core State Standards and suggest that Maryland — often lauded for its record on education — has a long way to go to show similar success on the new, more rigorous tests.

Maryland education officials said that they were not surprised by the results, which they said that they believe will improve over time. Combined state results for grades three through eight show that 39 percent of students met the benchmark in English and 29 percent reached it in math.

State officials said the scores mark an important starting point, creating a baseline for performance in the future.

Jack Smith, Maryland’s interim state superintendent of schools, said the state’s numbers seem low, but he does not see them as a sign of slipping performance.

“It’s one indicator and the very first time we have administered the test,” he said. “I would say Maryland students are just as capable and just as smart as they have ever been, probably more so over the last two decades. But it’s a different test, and we’re asking more of them.”

In Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, school officials said the results showed that more work needs to be done in math and literacy.

In math, combined results across exams from grades three through eight showed that just 37 percent of Montgomery County students and 15 percent of Prince George’s County students met the new benchmark, scoring a four or five on the five-point scale. Maryland views scores of four or five as showing readiness for courses at the next grade, with the goal of preparing students to enter college or a career upon graduation.

Students fared better in English. In Montgomery, 46 percent of students reached the intended proficiency level on English exams in combined results, while in Prince George’s, 25 percent of students did.

“We have a lot of improvement that we have to make,” said Larry A. Bowers, interim superintendent in Montgomery County. “We expected that. These are new tests. . . . It’s a much more rigorous curriculum. It’s a much more rigorous test. ”

The exams — called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC tests — require more critical thinking, persuasive writing and problem-solving than the last generation of standardized tests in Maryland, called the Maryland School Assessment (MSA).

Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and deputy director of its Brown Center on Education Policy, said that Maryland had low standards for achieving proficiency on MSAs, and the standards for PARCC are higher.

“It’s not that Maryland has lost its luster,” he said. “It is unlikely that there is a very large seismic shift in how Maryland is educating its kids. It’s just that the old proficiency standards lulled us into thinking our kids were doing better than they actually are.”

The new results for Maryland also show stark achievement gaps, a persistent problem across the country. Statewide, 13 percent of African American students and 16 percent of Hispanic students reached the benchmark in math, for example, compared with 61 percent of Asian students and 42 percent of white students.

Montgomery school officials noted that their students outperformed state averages on each math and English test at each grade level, though Bowers also noted that achievement gaps appeared wider than on other performance measures.

“I think the thing that’s frustrating is that when you look at the data, the achievement gap is much greater,” Bowers said. He said the school district has intensified its efforts on math and literacy, showing “we’re on the right track.”

Prince George’s County’s figures were below statewide averages, but Shawn Joseph, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning in Prince George’s, said they showed the district’s efforts to improve in reading — a focus this year — are beginning to take hold.

“Our reading data tells us we’re no longer last or next to last” among the state’s 24 school systems, Joseph said. Prince George’s ranked 20th out of 24 districts when it compared combined results for students scoring proficient in English, he said. “We’re making progress in how we have historically performed in relationship to other school systems in the state.”

Joseph said the district is committed to boosting math performance and has launched a number of efforts, including a Saturday school. Overall, he said, “we expected the scores to demonstrate that we had work to do.”