The achievement gap among Howard County students is steadily closing, school officials have reported.
At a legislative breakfast with members of the Board of Education, County Council and county delegates, Clarissa Evans, executive director of school improvement and curricular programs, outlined the 2010 Adequate Yearly Progress percentages — determined by Maryland State Assessment scores — of all county students compared to minorities and student sub-groups, like those receiving free and reduced meals or special education, or those with limited English proficiency.
In the last seven years, all students have achieved higher scores on the MSAs, going from 82 percent to 92 percent proficiency in reading and from 73 percent to 91 percent proficiency in math. Minorities and sub-groups are still scoring at lower levels, but those discrepancies are becoming smaller, Evans said, because of a more intense focus on outreach and curriculum with those groups.
"We continue to work to eliminate the achievement gap," Evans said. "We work hard every day to meet the needs of a diverse student population."
From 2003-2010, black students went from 64 percent to 83 percent proficiency in reading on the MSAs, and Hispanic students saw a 23-point gain in AYP reading proficiency, from 60 percent of students scoring at the proficient levels to 83 percent of students.
Those scores bring the achievement gap to nine percentage points for both groups, as opposed to the 22-point gap for Hispanics and 18-point gap for black students in 2003.
At the legislative breakfast, Evans noted that students receiving special services made some of the larger gains. The gap among students receiving free and reduced meals went from 31 points in 2003 to 14 points in 2010. Students receiving special education went from a 37-point gap to a 28-point gap, and students with limited English proficiency made the most significant gains, going from 34 percent proficiency to 77 percent, narrowing the achievement gap from 48 points to 15 points.
That sharp increase is for several reasons, Evans said, most notably that, because of the challenge expected for non-English speakers to take a test written in English, a one-year deferral is allowed for those students. Schools also employ "strategic adjustments and sheltered instruction," Evans said.
Students made gains in mathematics as well. Hispanic students went from 52 percent proficiency to 82 percent, narrowing the gap from 21 points to nine points, and Black students went from 47 percent proficiency to 78 percent, decreasing the gap from 26 points to 13 points.
Among other student groups, the math achievement gap continued to narrow as well. Over the last seven years, students with limited English proficiency went from 57 percent proficiency in math to 80 percent, decreasing the gap from 16 points to 11 points. Special education students went from 35 percent proficiency to 64 percent proficiency, narrowing the achievement gap to 27 points, down from 38 points.
Students who receive free or reduced meals made the most gains in math since 2003, going from 40 percent proficient to 74 percent, knocking the achievement gap from 33 points to 17 points.
In all categories, students in Howard County out-performed students from across the state in both reading and math in 2010, and continue to have higher graduation rates in nearly all categories.
Students with limited English proficiency in the county have a 75 percent on-time graduation rate, compared to 77.9 percent across the state. They are the only group not ranked higher than state averages, and also have a 7.2 percent dropout rate in the county. Overall, county schools have only a 1.4 percent dropout rate among all students.
Black students in the county have a 90.6 percent on-time percentage. While that's greater than the state's 80.7 percent rate, state Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat, still saw it as an area of concern.
"Overall progress has been made," he said. "You can't argue with the numbers. At the same time, for a county that prides itself on education, I think we can do better. … We can't rest on our laurels."