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Arundel's alarming drop in MSA scores

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The 2013 Maryland State Assessment (MSA) scores that came out in July contain very little good news and raise serious questions about the way we're teaching math in middle school. They also show there has been no progress in closing the achievement gap between white and African-American students in Anne Arundel County for the fourth year in a row.

While there were minor fluctuations in reading scores, the biggest changes in Anne Arundel County were steep declines in middle school math scores. Both the percentage of Anne Arundel students who passed the tests and the percentage who scored at the advanced level declined precipitously, particularly in sixth and eighth grade, where six to seven years of progress were erased.

Middle school math scores also declined in other jurisdictions, but not to the same extent as in Anne Arundel County. For example, the percentage of students with passing scores in middle school math declined 8.8 percent this year in Anne Arundel County versus 5.2 percent in the state of Maryland. The percentage of Anne Arundel County middle school students who received an advanced score in math dropped by 25.5 percent in the last year, almost double the 13.2 percent decline in the entire state.

In fact, while Anne Arundel County students enter middle school with math skills that are among the best in the state, they lose this advantage during the next three years. This year's eighth-graders performed at poorer levels than students throughout Maryland as a whole in math.

The educational system wants to explain away these poor results by saying there's a mismatch between the testing and the new middle school math curriculum that was introduced this year. While this may be true, one must ask what proof we have that the new math curriculum is an improvement. We must also discover why scores for Anne Arundel County students dropped so much more than those in the rest of the state.

A second very concerning finding is that there has been no progress in closing the achievement gap between white and African-American students for the last four years in Anne Arundel County. In fact, the gap between white and African-American test scores actually increased this year in math.

Middle school again seems to be the biggest problem area. The gap between white and African-American students widens considerably in middle school, particularly in math. Disturbingly, fewer than 40 percent of African-American eighth-grade students had passing math scores this year in Anne Arundel County, compared with 76 percent of white students.

While the school system has talked a lot about closing the gap, the actions taken have been ineffective. We need to study programs that are working in other parts of the country and implement their best practices here.

These poor test results should serve as a wake-up call to the Anne Arundel County Public School system that we need to make fairly substantial changes in the way we're teaching our students. It is crucial to our children's future and to the county's long-term economic prosperity that we follow policies and use curricula that enable all students to reach their full potential.

Joanna Conti, a Democrat, is a candidate for Anne Arundel County executive in 2014. Her email is joanna@joannaconti.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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