Mimicking statewide results, Laurel students saw drops in their math scores on the 2013 Maryland School Assessments, according to results released last week by the Maryland State Department of Education.
School officials in the three counties with Laurel schools, as well as top education officials in the state, attributed the drop to a "mismatch" in what's being taught and what's being tested, as schools are making the transition to the Common Core curriculum in anticipation of a new assessment. While the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC, will be rolled out in the 2014-15 academic year, Maryland schools are still mandated to test students with the old MSAs.
That "misalignment," State Superintendent Lillian Lowery said in a release accompanying the results, "will certainly affect our scores this year and next."
Statewide, 83.9 percent of elementary students scored passing grades (either proficient or advanced) on the math MSA, down from 87.7 percent last year. Middle school math scores dropped statewide, too, with 72.2 percent of students passing, down from 76.2 percent last year.
Closer to home in Laurel, students in Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties all saw math scores drop as well.
"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 County 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 tests 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."
Ultimately, said Howard spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove, focusing on the new test rather than the old one will in the long run "matter a great deal more to [the students'] futures than their MSA scores during these two years of transition."
In Howard County, elementary students passing the math test dropped from 93.8 percent last year to 92 percent this year. At the middle school level, passing scores went from 89.2 percent to 84.2 percent.
Reading scores in that county either saw incremental increases or decreases, with 93.8 percent of elementary students passing that test (down from 93.9 percent last year) and 91.5 percent of middle school students passing (up from 90.9 percent).
In Prince George's County, passing rates among elementary students on the math test dropped from 79 percent last year to 75.5 percent this year, and from 62.6 percent to 60 percent among middle school students. Elementary reading scores dropped, too, from an 82 percent passing rate last year to 79.4 percent this year. In the middle schools, reading scores improved to 75.7 percent passing rate, up from 73 percent last year.
At Deerfield Run Elementary School, Principal Mary Wall said the "overall decline" in scores at that school was because of the transition to Common Core.
"There are going to be some gaps on what MSA tests, but Common Core is more rigorous and teaches higher level skills," she said "We have a rigorous program here."
In Anne Arundel County, 91.1 percent of elementary students passed the math test, down from 93.2 percent last year. Middle school students saw a steeper drop — 73.8 percent passed the test, down from 80.9 percent last year.
Passing grades among elementary students on the reading test dropped, from 92.5 percent passing rate last year to 91.8 percent this year. Middle school reading scores went up two percentage points, from an 85.7 percent passing rate to 87.7 percent.
"I don't for a single second believe that the quality of our instruction or the abilities of our students have waned over the past year," former Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said in a release last week. As of Thursday, Aug. 1, Maxwell is chief executive officer of Prince George's County Public Schools.
"Common Core has brought about a more rigorous curriculum that requires schools to adjust instruction. The next step is to implement an assessment that tests for the same content and rigor, which will happen over the next two years."