Montgomery students’ scores fall in last year of state tests -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected at 5:50 p.m. on July 11, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

Montgomery County elementary and middle school students’ reading and math proficiency fell across the board in the last year of Maryland School Assessment tests, according to 2014 data released Friday by state education officials.

Officials attributed the declines largely to the fact that county schools use a curriculum geared to new state standards. Next year, students will take a test that officials say will match the new standards and therefore the curriculum.

The biggest drop was seen in elementary students’ math proficiency. The number of students who reached at least the proficiency level went down about 8.6 percentage points from last year. About 75.9 percent of the students scored proficient or higher this year, compared with 84.5 percent last year.

The number of middle school students reaching at least the math proficiency level also fell — 4.6 percentage points, dropping to 73.3 percent this year.

On the reading test, the number of middle school students attaining at least the proficiency level fell 3.5 percentage points, to 85.8 percent.

About 87.2 percent of elementary students earned proficient or better scores in reading, which marks a drop of 2.5 percentage points from last year.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said in a statement that the decline in scores “is not surprising” because the test does not match the school system’s curriculum, which is based on the Common Core State Standards.

“We spent this year focusing on the future success of our students and not preparing them to take tests that are not aligned with what is being taught in the classroom,” he said.

All Maryland students will take a new state test next year — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career test — which does match the Common Core standards.

Montgomery also saw declining levels of proficiency last year in math and elementary reading.

Overall, the state also saw a drop this year on the test, which has been used for roughly the last decade. The most significant declines were in math proficiency.

Statewide, the percentage of Maryland elementary students who achieved proficiency in math fell 8.1 points — a smaller drop than in Montgomery.

The drop for middle school students was 9.1 percentage points, a bigger drop than in the county.

On the reading part of the test, the percentage of Maryland elementary school students who scored at the proficient level or higher declined by 2.1 points — again, smaller than in Montgomery.

The percentage of middle school students who reached that proficiency level declined by 4.7 points, a bigger falloff than in the county.

Henry Johnson, assistant state superintendent of curriculum, assessment and accountability, said in a Friday conference call with reporters that the state “expected some dramatic drops this year compared to last year.”

This year, Johnson said, all Maryland school systems had implemented the new standards, while only some had fully implemented them last year.

During the same conference call, Jack Smith, chief academic officer for the state education department, also pointed to content misalignment issues as a reason for declining scores and said Maryland students are learning in different, more complex ways under new local curricula.

Students and teachers also are experiencing a shift in instruction, he said.

Smith said, however, that the data would be useful at the local level. School systems can compare schools and students groups to see if one performed better than another, he said.

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery school system, said in an email that the test results “are of limited value to improving teaching and learning.” In addition to the tests being misaligned with classroom lessons, not all students took the test this year, he said.

Smith said the declines in math scores indicate a larger problem.

“I think it continues to tell the state that we as a nation and as a state need to find better ways to reach students in mathematics,” he said during the conference call.

Local legislators and community members objected to the state giving the test this year, largely because it didn’t align with what was being taught in classrooms.

State Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village and Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville sponsored a failed bill that would have directed the Maryland State Department of Education to apply for a waiver from the federal government, so schools could have skipped the test this year.

A Montgomery County teacher started a MoveOn.org petition calling for the test to be canceled; the petition gained hundreds of signatures.

lpowers@gazette.net

An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to percentage drops in students’ scores and results on Maryland School Assessment tests. The test results, in fact, demonstrate a decline in the percentage of students who scored proficient or higher on the test.