Overall, Harford County's public middle school students in 2012-13 school year tested fairly close to where they did the previous year in the annual Maryland School Assessment program.
But as was the case with the rest of the state, average performance in the county left much to be desired from a program that to be successful is supposed to produce annual gains.
Last school year, Harford middle school scores on the MSA math test were lower among sixth and seventh grade students but showed a gain among eighth-graders.
The problem, however, is that the higher the grade, the worse the overall performance, when it comes to the math MSA.
Harford sixth graders in aggregate scored at an 85.1 percent proficient or advanced level on the math MSA, seventh graders at a 79.5 percent proficient or advanced level and eighth graders at a 74.7 percent proficient or advanced level.
The sixth grade composite math performance was off two points from the previous year, while the seventh grade composite dropped 5.7 points. The eighth grade composite, however, rose 1.4 points.
The reading performance levels among Harford middle schoolers was somewhat better, as sixth grade scores were about even with 2011-12, seventh grade scores rose and eighth grade scores were also relatively even to the prior year.
Sixth graders tested at an 87.8 percent advanced or proficient level on MSA reading, virtually even with the prior year. Seventh graders tested at a 90.6 percent advanced or proficient level, up 3.8 points. Eighth graders tested at an 85.2 percent advanced or proficient level, again about even with 2011-12.
Beat state average
Harford's MSA middle school scores did exceed the statewide averages, in all three grades and on both the math and reading tests, in a year when most state averages declined for the first time in 10 years.
Those declines have been blamed on the implementation of so-called Common Core curriculum, a nationwide standard, in many schools at time when some of the material being tested through the older MSA program is no longer being taught in the classroom. Educators say new MSA tests are needed that actually align with material children are learning.
"This year, the state's decision to eliminate the Mod MSA exacerbated some achievement gaps," Joseph Schmitz, the school system's executive director for middle and high school performance, said through a spokesperson. "We are also experiencing some misalignment between the MSA and the curriculum as we implement the Common Core."
Among the nine Harford middle schools, not one school showed MSA performance levels over 90 percent advanced or proficient on all tests through all three grades.
The schools that came closest, Fallston and Patterson Mill, posted composite scores in the 90s or better on all the MSA tests except eighth grade math, although eighth grade math composite scores at both schools rose from the previous year, to 87.4 percent proficient or advanced at Fallston and to 84.3 percent at Patterson Mill.
Patterson Mill, serving the Bel Air South and Abingdon areas, also has the distinction of being the only Harford middle school where scores last year rose across the board in all grades and on both tests.
Fallston's scores rose in every grade except for the seventh grade math MSA, where the composite of students scoring advanced or proficient declined from 94.5 percent to 92.1 percent, still the top overall seventh grade math composite in the county tied with Patterson Mill's eighth grade composite.
In addition to Fallston and Patterson Mill, Bel Air Middle, North Harford Middle and Southampton Middle's composite scores registered in the 80s or 90s for all three grades on both tests.
Schmitz noted that these schools were "very successful" and once again scored above state averages, "despite these significant systematic changes our schools are facing."
There were, however, several troubled areas of performance elsewhere in the county.
At Aberdeen Middle, the eighth grade MSA math composite performance dropped from 63 percent proficient or advanced to 56.9 percent.
At Magnolia Middle, the eighth grade MSA math composite performance fell from 52.2 to 51.2, leaving Magnolia and Aberdeen as the only two local middle schools where an MSA composite performance level fell below 60 percent.
Aberdeen Middle also experienced a significant drop in its seventh grade math composite from 75.9 to 62.8 percent advanced or proficient, while the same school's seventh graders boosted their performance on the reading MSA from 79.8 to 93.7 percent.
The most spectacular math gain at a single school occurred at Havre de Grace Middle, where the eighth grade composite math performance went from 59.9 percent proficient or advanced in 2011-12 to 72.4 percent last school year. The eighth grade math composite rose almost seven points at North Harford Middle to 83 percent scoring at proficient or advanced levels.
Scores for Havre de Grace Middle were either in the 70s or 80s, while scores for Edgewood Middle were mostly in the 60s or 70s.
The scores Aberdeen middle ranged from the 50s for eighth grade math up to 90s for sixth and seventh grade reading. Magnolia Middle's composites were in the 60s or 70s other than the 51.3 score for eighth grade math.