Harford's state test scores continue to improve

Almost 98 percent of Harford County's middle and elementary schools met new state proficiency standards in mathematics last school year, while scores in reading trailed behind with 83 percent proficient.

Annual Maryland School Assessment, or MSA, results released Tuesday by the Maryland State Department of Education shows Harford County Public Schools students in grades three through eight met or exceeded MSA standards in both subjects.

Additionally, HCPS continues to score above the statewide averages.

According to a news release from HCPS, the county's students scored 91 percent and the state 88 percent in elementary reading; 90 percent for the county and 88 percent for the state in elementary mathematics; 86 percent for the county and 82 percent for the state in middle school reading; and 81 percent for the county and 76 percent for the state in middle school mathematics.

This year, however, state-established proficiency rates were calculated differently to "reflect school specific data based on [the] 2011 performance," according to the release from HCPS.

"Maryland was granted flexibility regarding the Federal No Child Left Behind law," the release continues. "The new Maryland accountability plan focuses on student growth, on-time graduation rates and college and career readiness for all students."

This means instead of focusing on students reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2014, the new plan sets a goal for increased proficiency by 2017 and sets school-specific objectives rather than the same objective for each school in the state.

Also as a result of the new flexibility with No Child Left Behind, the Adequate Yearly Progress indicator has been eliminated. Under this change, schools that do not meet state proficiency rates will not be classified on a school improvement list, as had been the case previously.

Instead of measuring schools using the Adequate Yearly Progress system, taking its place will be the Maryland School Performance/Progress Index, which gives attention to the lower performing schools in the state.

Another change that could potentially affect scores is the factoring in of non-participants.

As HCPS Communications Manager Teri Kranefeld explained, scores in previous years did not include students eligible to take the test but unable to. Those "non-participants" were instead factored into a participation rate.

Now, those students are factored into the proficiency rate and, if unable to take the test, receive a score of zero.

"Although we have experienced a change in the way we calculate and measure student achievement at the state level, the high expectations that we set for our students have not and will not change," Superintendent Robert Tomback is quoted as saying in the HCPS news release. "We are proud of the accomplishments of our students, and we look forward to working with the new state accountability program and Common Core standards to ensure that all of our students graduate from high school ready for college and/or a career."

So far, HCPS is on the right path in meeting the new 2017 goal, the school system said.

"In 2012, 28 of the 42 elementary and middle schools received at least a 90 percent proficiency rate overall in reading and 21 schools received at least a 90 percent proficiency rate overall in mathematics," HCPS stated in the release. "All elementary and middle schools achieved theirs [Annual Measurable Objectives] for attendance rates. Of the 16 schools that did not make [Adequate Yearly Progress] last year in [No Child Left Behind] accountability model, 11 schools met their [objectives] in 2012."

On the other end of the spectrum, eight out of 42 elementary and middle schools did not meet the proficiency rates in reading and/or mathematics, "falling short by just one or two students in most cases," the news release stated.

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