Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Middle schools improve but still have a ways to go

All but five of 129 elementary schools met goals; new initiative focuses on middle school progress

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County middle schools made gains on this year’s round of Maryland School Assessment tests in reading and math, but still have a ways to go to catch up with the elementary schools.

Seventy-one percent of the county’s middle schools — or 27 of 38 schools — met adequate yearly progress standards this year, according to data released last week by the state Department of Education. Last year, only 45 percent of middle schools — or 17 — made AYP, according to school system information.

Ninety-six percent of the county’s 129 elementary schools met progress standards this year. Five schools — Burtonsville, Capt. James E. Daly in Germantown, DuFief in Gaithersburg, Oak View in Silver Spring and Twinbrook in Rockville — failed to meet the mark.

None of the county’s 23 Title I schools — those with the highest poverty rates — is on the state’s school improvement list this year. Schools are put on the state’s school improvement list if they fail to make AYP for two straight years.

All told, school system leaders are happy with the progress.

‘‘We are extremely pleased with the growth in performance at the middle school level this year and the extraordinary performance of our elementary schools,” schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said in a statement. ‘‘Our schools have worked hard to help their students not only meet, but exceed the state’s testing targets as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.”

Under the federal law, all students must score proficient or higher on the math and reading tests by 2014. The MSAs are given annually to third- through eighth-graders.

The falloff in middle school test scores is not only a concern in Montgomery; school districts nationwide are struggling to fully understand why some students don’t fare well at that level.

Middle schools are transitional institutions that focus more on building self-esteem for teens than on academics, some experts say. Others view middle school as a training ground for aspiring high school principals and administrators.

The county school system — with 137,000 students in 200 schools — wants to change that perception.

In February, the school board unanimously approved a $10 million, three-year middle school reform initiative that emphasizes tougher classes, technology-based instruction and the hiring of more guidance counselors.

The program’s first phase, which costs $2.5 million, will be implemented this year at Benjamin Banneker in Burtonsville, Roberto W. Clemente in Germantown, Montgomery Village, Sligo in Silver Spring and Earle B. Wood in Rockville. Of those schools, Banneker, Clemente and Montgomery Village did not meet progress standards this year.

But middle school test scores will get better, said Linda E. Ferrell, the school system’s director of middle school instruction and achievement.

‘‘Targeting the middle schools is really just starting,” she said. ‘‘Elementary schools had nine years of initiative, and now they’re seeing the fruits of their labor. It’s just our time to put more resources in our middle schools.”

Minorities, students on free and reduced-price meals, limited-English speakers and those in special education historically struggle on the MSAs. Eight of 11 middle schools did not meet progress goals this year because their special education students struggled on the assessments, according to school system information.

One school — Silver Spring International Middle School — did not make AYP again this year and will be placed in corrective action, which could include replacing school staff, adopting a new curriculum and decreasing the school’s management authority.

Any school not making adequate progress after a year under corrective action faces restructuring, which includes firing most — if not all — of the staff relevant to the school not making AYP, contracting a management company or reopening as a public charter school.

More middle schools met progress standards this year, even as the state’s proficiency standards increased, said Stephen L. Bedford, Montgomery’s chief school performance officer.

Ten schools that were on the state’s improvement list last year met progress standards this year and will be removed if they met standards again in 2008.

One school, Shady Grove Middle in Gaithersburg, is out from under state watch after meeting performance goals for a second straight year.

‘‘The bar went up,” Bedford said. ‘‘We’re very pleased, but next year, it’s getting harder again.”

The numbers tell a different story at the state level.

Maryland had 167 schools identified for school improvement last year. This year, 176 schools are under state watch. Fifty-two new schools will enter school improvement this year, and 40 schools could leave the school improvement next year if they make their AYP goals. Last year, 31 schools left the school improvement list, said William Reinhard, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Moving Ahead, Moving Back

County middle schools that did not make AYP this year:

Silver Spring International

Benjamin Banneker in Burtonsville

Briggs Chaney in Silver Spring

Gaithersburg

Lakelands Park in Gaithersburg

Neelsville in Germantown

Newport Mill in Kensington

Julius West in Rockville

Montgomery Village

Roberto W. Clemente in Germantown

Takoma Park

Ten schools on the state’s school improvement list did meet progress goals this year and will be removed if they met them again next year:

Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring

Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring

Parkland Middle School in Aspen Hill

White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring

Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg

John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus

Redland Middle School in Rockville

Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg

Tilden Middle School in Rockville

Watkins Mill Elementary School in Montgomery Village