The performance of Baltimore's first- and second-grade pupils fell significantly in reading and math on a national standardized test, mirroring the drops on statewide assessments this year.

The results show that the academic performance of even the city's youngest students has declined, in some cases by as much as 6 percentage points in a single grade and subject.

While a news release sent late Friday emphasized that students are still performing above the national average in some subjects, the system acknowledged that the test scores are a "call to action."

"I feel that the fact that we are above the national average is something to continue to draw from," Baltimore schools chief Andrés Alonso said in an interview. "The fact that we dropped from last year is something that took us back to the drawing board."

He said the system might need to change its instructional programs because of declining scores and the switch to a new national and state curriculum that is considered more advanced.

In first-grade reading, the number of students passing dropped from the 51st percentile to the 55th percentile last year on the Stanford 10, a national test that the system chose to give to chart the progress of its primary students but that was not counted toward the standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In second-grade reading, the drop was from the 51st percentile to the 47th percentile this year.

In math, the percentile rank fell to 61 from 67; passing second-grade scores dropped to the 56th percentile from the 61st.

In all cases, the scores are better than in 2007 and 2004, when the test was first given. The scores then ranged between the 36th and 40th percentile rank.

The city also experienced a decline of 5 percentage points in math and 3 percentage points in reading on the 2011 Maryland School Assessments, given in grades three through eight.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a national advocacy group, said the city should be judged on the long-term trend rather than on one year of results, which are difficult to interpret. He said two years of declines would be significant. Of school systems making significant gains, 75 percent have a year when scores dip, he said.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

erica.green@baltsun.com

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