Bricca said the scrutiny helped teachers to "sharpen their tools, and that focus shows in the numbers."

Scores at the third school, Westminster West Middle, didn't improve as much overall, though seventh-graders made a 15-point jump in math.

Childs Walker

Harford

Harford County students posted modest gains in most categories and bested the state average in every area. The county's pass rate exceeded 85 percent in every category except for eighth-grade math, the most difficult test for students statewide.

The only areas in which the county's scores dropped were seventh- and eighth-grade reading and in both cases, the declines mirrored statewide results almost exactly.

The county made a significant gain in seventh-grade math where the pass rate jumped from 78 percent to 85.2 percent. The pass rate for eighth-grade math remained stagnant, by contrast, at about 73 percent.

Harford schools also performed well under the new accountability measures established by the state after it gained a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind standards. The county said 98 percent of its middle and elementary schools met their goals in math and 83 percent met their goals in reading. Of the 16 schools that failed to meet standards in at least one area last year, 11 achieved all of their state goals this year.

"Although we have experienced a change in the way we calculate and measure student achievement at the state level, the high expectations that we set for our students have not and will not change," said Superintendent Robert M. Tomback in a statement.

Childs Walker

Howard

In Howard County, 94.1 percent of elementary students passed the reading assessment, up slightly from 94.0 percent the previous year. Elementary students passing math increased 93.8 percent, up from 92.6 percent the previous year.

At the middle school level, the proportion of students passing reading assessments was 90.9 percent, down from 92.7 percent the previous year. The percentage of middle school students who passed math assessments rose to 89.1 percent, up from 87.3 percent.

This year, 51.5 percent of Howard's elementary students scored advanced on the reading portion, while 62 percent of middle school students scored advanced in reading. In math, 55.7 percent of elementary students scored advanced while 52 percent of middle school students scored at the advanced level.

"Our scores are very good. Our teachers and our students have worked extremely hard to get them where they are today," said Howard Superintendent Renee Foose. "I'm certainly very proud of the gains we've seen in math since the baseline year of 2003. It's impressive and a testimony to how well teachers are preparing our students."

In comparison with other counties, 95.2 percent of Howard's fifth-graders passed reading, third behind Calvert County and Carroll County. Among fourth-graders, 95.1 percent of Howard students passed reading, fourth behind Worcester, Queen Anne's and Anne Arundel counties.

Howard's eighth-graders' 90.6 percent passage in math trailed only Carroll and Worcester counties. Its sixth-grade reading passage of 91.5 percent ranked fourth behind Carroll, Queen Anne and Worcester counties.

Joe Burris