Although Frederick County students have continued to score higher on standardized math tests, their reading progress is stalling, according to data released by the Maryland State Department of Education on Tuesday.
The data reflects results from the Maryland School Assessments, which students in third though eighth grade took in early March. To pass the tests, students must score proficient or advanced.
This year’s scores show an uptick in the math performance for all students, with elementary school students rising from 89.9 percent to 93.3 percent proficient and middle school students increasing from 84.3 percent to 86.4 percent proficient.
In reading, however, results have plateaued in elementary grades and declined slightly for middle schools. Although elementary students reading scores inched forward from 93.7 percent to 93.9 percent proficient, middle school scores in reading went down from 90.7 percent to 89.2 percent proficient.
“It is leveling off,” said Steve Hess, the school system director for development, research and accountability.
He said he was pleased with the overall test results, which also indicate a reduction in the achievement gap among elementary school students who live in poverty, those with special needs and English language learners.
“There is much to be proud of here, much to celebrate,” Hess said.
Frederick County Public Schools in the past few years have worked to boost math scores, especially at the elementary level. The school system changed its basic math textbooks, stepped up math interventions, and increased the use of math specialists, which might be why math scores have climbed this year, Hess said.
Now, it might be time for schools to re-evaluate their reading program and look for interventions that can ramp up students’ performance in the same way, Hess said.
School officials also are concerned about the growth in the achievement gap for English language learners in both middle school math and reading. While Frederick County schools continue to reduce the achievement gap for middle schoolers with special needs and those who come from low-income families, the gap for middle-school English language learners appears to have increased.
The gap is wider in reading, where this year, English language learners dropped to 36.7 percent proficient from 43.7 percent proficient in 2011 and 57.5 percent proficient in 2010.
“We are concerned,” said Larry Steinley, supervisor for English Language learners, who said the trend mirrors results across the state.
“Across Maryland, the achievement gap between English language learners and non-ELL students is too wide,” he said. “The results for ELL students in grades eight and six across the state decreased last year on MSA reading.”
Officials already have started to look into possible solutions, such as additional interventions for students, more professional development and other instructional support.
One of the big difficulties for school officials this year is changing the way they have been looking at standardized test scores for the past decade, as a result of a waiver exempting all Maryland school systems from some of the most rigid requirements of No Child Left Behind.
Under the federal education law, schools had to ensure all students — regardless of race, ethnicity, special needs and socio-economic status — made sufficient progress every year to become 100 percent proficient in math and reading by 2014. Under that practice, the Maryland Department of Education, used to report whether each school met that target.
But Maryland this year was granted a waiver from that requirement. Now, each school in Frederick County and across Maryland is required to cut in half the percentage of students at each school who are not proficient in math and reading by 2017.
This way, if a school has 70 percent of students proficient in reading in 2011, that school will have to have 85 percent of students proficient in reading by 2017. Individual student subgroups — based on race, ethnicity, special needs, English language proficiency and socio-economic status — will all be required to show the same progress.
Although Frederick County officials have welcomed the change because it recognizes the complexities of student achievement, they acknowledge in the first year the process will be longer and more confusing than usual.
“In the future years, this will be all worked out,” said Resha Kreischer-Anderson, the school system data analyst and research specialist.