Area educators did not welcome the news that the Maryland State Assessment scores showed decreases in both reading and math performance in county elementary schools. But it was also not a surprise.
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said county schools had shifted their focus to implementing the more rigorous Common Core State Standards in the classroom.
"The Common Core State Standards are not aligned to MSA tests; therefore, the taught curriculum was not the tested curriculum and this led to a decrease in student test scores but not necessarily a decrease in a student's understanding of the material," he said in a release after the scores were released on July 23.
The drop was most noticeable in fifth-grade math.
Of the 13 elementary schools in Catonsville and Arbutus, only two did not see a decrease in the percentage of fifth-graders who scored at the proficient or advanced level.
Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville maintained its score of +95 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in fifth-grade math.
That percentage is the highest that can be reported by the state. The State Department of Education instituted a policy several years ago not to release scores above 95.
Hillcrest also had +95 percent of students at advanced or proficient in every grade for both reading and math.
"It's a year-long process to make sure we're doing everything we can to deliver the instruction at a very high level," said Hillcrest Principal Terry McVey. "This year will probably be even more challenging as we shift more toward the Common Core (State Standards).
"We're preparing for that right now," she said. "We're doing what we can to bridge that transitional period of time."
Like Hillcrest, Lansdowne Elementary also had its third- and fourth-grade classes at the +95 percent for math and reading. It's fifth-graders also scored at +95 for reading and showed a slight decrease from 91.1 to 89.5 in math.
Westowne Elementary School in the Catonsville area saw a slight increase in the percentage of fifth-graders scoring proficient or advanced in math.
But most of the elementary schools in Catonsville, Arbutus and Lansdowne saw a decline of less than 10 percent in proficiency from last year.
At Relay Elementary, for example, the fourth-grade class scored +95 in math last year. This year, the fifth-grade class scored 88.8.
Both the third- and fourth-grade classes at Relay Elementary scored a +95 in reading and math.
Third- and fourth-graders at Hillcrest and Lansdowne also scored at the highest reportable level.
"I'm excited to see that our students are continuing to make progress, even with the transition to Common Core," said Stephen Price, Lansdowne Elementary's new principal. "I'm proud of the kids and their ability to really gain the knowledge from the instruction and still transition and perform well on assessments.
"I was at Johnnycake (Elementary) last year, and we saw some decreases," he said of the school that saw decreases in performance in every category except fourth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on the 2013 MSAs.
"I'm anxious to get into classrooms (at Lansdowne) and see what teachers are doing," Price said. "I think, at every school, there's engaging instruction, and students are really learning from their teachers."
Overall, the percentage of county public school elementary students at a proficient or advanced level in math declined from 90.8 to 88, according to a release from the county.
"I think that this new (Common Core) framework is going to give us a lot of opportunities to really challenge our students," said Jason Barnett, principal at Woodbridge Elementary.
"MSA, it's a piece of data, it's a wonderful piece of data, but it's just one we look at in the grand scheme. I think we need to look at the whole picture. For me, it's multiple points of data and looking at each individual student," Barnett said.
Woodbridge saw a decrease in third-grade and fifth-grade proficiency for both reading and math, but an increase in proficiency in both reading and math for fourth-graders.
"I think we sort of patterned along with other schools across the school system," Barnett said. "No matter what the data shows, the most important thing is to stay in a positive mind set."
Riverview Elementary saw similar scoring trends, with decreases in third- and fifth-grade math proficiency, but an increase in fourth-grade proficiency. There were slight decreases in third-, fourth- and fifth-grade reading proficiencies, though Principal Mary Maddox said they were not unexpected.
"We did expect some issues because there was that transition to the Common Core (State Standards)," Maddox said. "I'm extremely proud of my teachers, my staff and my students for all the hard work they did making that transition to the Common Core.
"In math, there are certain concepts and units that are not taught in the same sequence or order as the testing dictates. So therein lies an issue," she said. "You're going to see some bumps in the road, but that's OK."
Elementary school students in the state showed a 4.1 percent decrease in math performance.
In reading, the percentage of elementary schools students at proficient or advance level fell from 90.9 to 89.4, according to the county school system.
The state saw a 2.4 percent decrease in reading performance at the elementary level.