Harford County Public Schools students generally did better than their counterparts around the state in the final year of Maryland School Assessment testing administered during the 2013-14 school year.

Statewide, student test scores had the largest one-year drop since the Maryland School Assessments began a decade ago – an outcome many had predicted after officials changed what teachers taught in the classroom but not the annual test.

The changes in curriculum are tied to the move to the controversial Common Core standards in Maryland and many other states.

In the final year of the MSA, students in Harford County scored well above state averages, even as most local scores also declined from the previous year.

The MSA is given in the spring to students in grades three through eight to test knowledge in math and reading. A science test is given to students in grades five and eight. To pass, a student has to score at level of advanced or proficient.

In no instance in the 2014 school year did the Harford students' composite MSA scores dip below 74 percent advanced and proficient, and the majority of the composite scores were in the 80 to 90 percent range, with a few higher than 90 percent.

Fewer Harford students took the MSA this past school year, in part a reflection of declining enrollment in many grades but also because **some** students were randomly given the PARCC, for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a test tied to Common Core that will replace the MSA in the 2014-15 school year.

The year-over-year MSA proficiency decline in Harford mirrored what happened throughout Maryland. Most of the declines in Harford were not precipitous, a percent or two or, in some cases, a fraction of a percent.

There were a few gains in Harford, as well. The percentage of fourth grade students who scored at a proficient or advanced level increased from 91.8 percent in 2013 to 91.9 percent this past school year, while fifth grade reading proficiency increased from 92.1 percent to 92.5 percent.

Conversely, the biggest single drop in Harford's scores occurred among sixth graders taking the math MSA, from 85.1 percent proficient or advanced in 2013 to 80.2 percent in 2014, with 26 fewer students taking the test last school year.

Harford school officials said the random PARCC testing, which exceeded more than a single class of students in some cases, skewed the MSA results to the point that last year's scores are not comparable to prior years.

"Due to the implementation of PARCC testing this year, the MSA testing population decreased in each school," Jillian Lader, HCPS director of communications, said via email Monday. "Each school had at least one class participate in PARCC in a content area, which means those students did not take the MSA in that same content area."

"Some schools had multiple classes participate in PARCC, resulting in a more significant decrease in MSA participation," Lader continued. "The number of classes participating in PARCC assessments was randomly chosen in each school. Therefore, it is important to note that it is not accurate to simply compare this year's assessment data to last year's accountability data, as the testing population was not consistent."

A grade-by-grade summary of Harford's scores follows:

**Third grade**

**Reading:** Proficiency declined from 88.7 percent in 2013 to 84.7 percent in 2014, with 211 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2012 were 87.3 and 88.6 percent, respectively, one of the few instances in which a 2013 or 2014 rate was higher than the prior two years. State average 2014: 77.2 percent.

**Math:** Proficiency declined from 87.1 percent in 2013 to 86.4 percent in 2014, with 259 fewer tested in 2014. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2012 were 88.2 and 88.9 percent, respectively, both higher than the most recent two years. State average 2014: 74.2 percent.

**Fourth grade**

**Reading:** Proficiency was up slightly from 91.8 percent in 2013 to 91.9 percent in percent in 2014, with 216 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2012 were 92.0 and 93.9 percent, respectively, both higher than the most recent two years. State average 2014: 86.3 percent.

**Math:** Proficiency declined from 91.5 percent in 2013 to 90.8 percent in 2014, with 285 fewer tested in 2014. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2013 were 92.5 and 92.7 percent, respectively, both higher than the most recent two years. State average 2014: 80.6 percent.

**Fifth grade**

**Reading:** Proficiency increased from 92.1 percent in 2013 to 92.5 percent in 2014, with 64 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2012 were 92.6 and 93.1 percent, respectively, both higher than the previous two years. State average 2014: 89.0 percent.

**Math:** Proficiency declined from 88.1 percent in 2013 to 86.5 percent in 2014, with 64 fewer tested, marking a three-year slide from 89.5 percent in 2012, when 218 fewer were tested than in 2013. The proficiency rate was 86.4 percent in 2011, when a similar number were tested as in 2013 and 2014. State average 2014: 72.8 percent.

**Science:** Proficiency declined from 76.5 percent in 2013 to 74.1 percent in 2014, with 54 fewer students tested in 2014, capping a four-year decline. Proficiency rates for 2011 and 2012 were 76.8 and 77.2 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 64.2 percent.

**Sixth grade**

**Reading:** Proficiency declined from 87.8 percent in 2013 to 87.4 percent in 2014, with 183 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates for 2011 and 2012 were 87.7 and 86.9 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 83.2 percent.

**Math:** Proficiency declined from 85.1 percent in 2013 to 80.2 percent in 2014, the sharpest year over year decline in the Harford system, with 26 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates for 2011 and 2012 were 84.8 and 87.1 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 67.8 percent.

**Seventh grade**

**Reading:** Proficiency declined from 90.6 percent in 2013 to 87.3 percent in 2014, with 265 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates for 2011 and 2012 were 87.6 and 86.8 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 78.8 percent.

**Math:** Proficiency declined from 79.5 percent in 2013 to 76.8 percent in 2014, with 311 fewer students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates for 2011 and 2012 were 78.0 and 85.2 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 63.1 percent.

**Eighth grade**

**Reading:** Proficiency declined from 85.3 percent in 2013 to 81.9 percent in 2014, another four year drop, with 131 more students tested in 2014 than in 2013. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2012 were 88.5 and 85.5 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 76.9 percent.

**Math:** Proficiency declined from 74.7 percent in 2013 to 71.3 percent in 2014, with 217 more students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates in 2011 and 2012 were 72.7 and 73.0 percent, respectively. State average 2014: 58.7 percent.

**Science:** Proficiency declined from 82.1 percent in 2013 to 80.3 percent in 2014, with 137 more students tested in 2014. Proficiency rates for 2011 and 2012 were 81.2 and 80.3, respectively. State average: 69.4 percent.

**Final year**

The state administered the MSAs for the last time this year – at a cost of about $9 million – despite drastic changes in curriculum as schools adopted the Common Core standards. While federal officials have agreed not to hold Maryland schools accountable for the scores, federal law required testing to continue.

Some educators blamed the poor showing on the fact that teachers were uncertain about the new material and that students knew the scores this year wouldn't count.

The dip – the second year in a row that scores have declined statewide – was remarkably large for math. The state average dropped 8 percentage points in the elementary grades and 9 percentage points for middle-schoolers. Reading scores statewide also went down, 2 percentage points in elementary and 5 in middle schools.

School systems around Maryland also lost several instruction days because of winter weather cancellations, which pushed back testing in some schools.

This year's scores are still higher on average than they were when the tests were first administered in 2003. And across the state, most elementary students passed – 84 percent in reading and 76 percent in math. Pass rates for the middle schools were lower than for elementary schools, as they have been historically.

Many educators, legislators and parents argued for a one-year testing moratorium until the Common Core curriculum matches the new tests, which will debut in the spring of 2015.

Such a move would have been expensive, so Maryland officials decided to go ahead with the old MSA, saying they were bound by federal law. Officials did get a waiver, however, so schools wouldn't be penalized based on test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Pilot testing of the new PARCC assessment also may have contributed to the declines. Statewide, 40,000 students – about one classroom of students in nearly every school – took either the reading or the math portion of PARCC instead of the MSA. In Anne Arundel County alone, that meant that the scores of 11,000 students weren't part of the results.

*Liz Bowie, Erica L. Green and Joe Burris of The Baltimore Sun and Allan Vought of The Aegis contributed to this article.*