Math scores among Howard County elementary and middle school students dipped this year, according to 2013 Maryland School Assessment results released Tuesday by the Maryland State Department of Education, though scores overall remain higher in the county than statewide.
Despite beginning to implement the state-mandated Common Core curriculum and preparing for the new assessments known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) that will be rolled out in the 2014-15 academic year, Maryland schools are still mandated to test students with the old MSAs.
In Howard County, 84.2 percent of middle school students scored a passing grade — either advanced or proficient — on the math MSA, down five percentage points from last year. Math scores dropped among elementary school students, too: 92 percent passed, down from 93.8 percent last year. Statewide, 83.9 percent of elementary students and 72.2 percent of middle school students passed the math test
Reading scores showed incremental growth among middle school students, with a 91.5 percent passing rate up from 90.9 percent last year. In the elementary school, 93.0 percent passed the reading test, the same as last year. Statewide this year, 86.4 percent of elementary students and 83.4 percent of middle school students passed the reading test.
"The Howard County Public School System was well into implementing the new Common Core curriculum this past year," said Howard schools spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove. "The new curriculum shows great promise of preparing students for success beyond graduation. The assessments aligned with this curriculum are currently still under development by two multi-state consortia. So in the interim, there is a mismatch between what is taught and what is tested."
That "misalignment," State Superintendent Lillian Lowery said in a release, "will certainly affect our scores this year and next."
"The new curriculum raises the level of rigor for all students and shows great promise for better preparing students for success in higher education and careers," Howard officials said in a release. "However, the MSA has not yet been replaced with the new assessments tied to the new curriculum. ... Thus, the old MSA test are still in use and include some concepts that the new curriculum does not cover. This disconnect is most evident in math because the new curriculum addresses fewer topics, albeit in greater depth, each year."
Teachers are "focusing on implementing the new curriculum with fidelity," Amani-Dove said, and are focused on teaching students 21st century skills.
"This focus will help our students to be more successful on the PARCC tests which, in the long run, matter a great deal more to their futures than their MSA scores during these two years of transition."
In an opinion piece in The Baltimore Sun on July 17, Howard Superintendent Renee Foose wrote that the mismatch is what is being taught and what is being tested "goes beyond shocking news for parents," as evaluation models for teachers and principals are also affected by student performance.
"Classroom teachers are on the front lines of implementing all of the reforms," Foose wrote. "Ultimately, success or failure hinges on their buy-in. Yet, the message to teachers is absurd: Teach to the future for the sake of your students, but for your own sake, be sure your students do better than ever before on yesterday's tests."
Foose wrote that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced June 18 that states would be able to apply for waiver "to lessen the impact of these outdated tests," and states may be granted a year before the new teacher evaluation systems are used for personnel decisions. Full details of the waivers have not yet been provided, but Foose wrote that if the state department applied for a waiver, it would "demonstrate support for our teachers and students without compromising progress" in the new reforms.
"Just as we teach our students how to adapt to an ever-changing world, we too must be willing and able to adapt — both by implementing needed reforms and by recognizing and responding appropriately to the pitfalls and unexpected outcomes that inevitably arise along the way," Foose wrote.