Howard County students are still performing better than their counterparts across the state when it comes to the Maryland School Assessment scores, but this year's results, released Tuesday by the Maryland State Department of Education, showed a decline in middle school reading.
The MSA exams in reading and math are given to students in the third through eighth grades, and the results are ranked in the categories of basic, proficient and advanced — the latter two of which constitute a passing score.
Last year, 92.7 percent of Howard County middle school students passed the reading test. This year, that number was 90.9 percent.
The dip in scores was seen across the state as well: the number of middle school students to pass the reading test in 2012 fell from 83.5 percent to 82.1 percent.
The drop comes before a major overhaul in the way reading is taught in county middle schools.
Starting in August, students will no longer be able to take traditional, stand alone reading classes; rather, reading will be infused across the curriculum, taught in different content areas like science and social studies. The shift, approved by the Board of Education in December 2011, is to further align the school system with the mandated Common Core standards.
Meanwhile, the reading score was the only decline by county students.
In elementary mathematics, 93.8 percent of students scored at least proficient on the test, up from 92.6 percent last year. In reading, 94.1 percent of elementary students scored proficient or advanced — barely up from last year's 94 percent.
At the middle school level, Howard students also made gains in math: 89.1 percent scored proficient or advanced, up from last year's 87.3 percent.
Those numbers indicate Howard students continue to out-perform their peers from other counties. Statewide, 88.2 percent of elementary students scored at least proficient in reading and 87.7 percent scored proficient in math — both increases from last year. Middle-schoolers across the state saw a rise in math scores as well, up to 76.2 percent proficiency.
In May, Maryland was one of eight states to receive federal waivers from the No Child Left Behind law, which had required 100 percent of students be proficient in math and science by 2014. Under NCLB, schools had to make Adequate Yearly Progress — a statewide measurement that ensured a school was on track to meet NCLB requirements.
With the waiver and the state's new School Progress plan, each school is measured according to its own target.
Under the new target, each school must halve the percentage of students scoring basic — the lowest MSA score — by 2017, and each school and student group has its own goals for incremental improvements over the next six years.
While a majority of the county's 59 elementary and middle schools did achieve the Annual Measurable Objectives, 13 did not. According to the Maryland State Department of Education, schools that failed to meet the AMOs in one or more student groups include: Atholton, Hollifield Station, Talbott Springs and Thunder Hill elementary schools, and Elkridge Landing, Glenwood, Harper's Choice, Lake Elkhorn, Murray Hill, Patuxent Valley and Wilde Lake middle schools.
The MSDE website also lists Clarksville Middle as having failed to reach the reading and math target among special education students, and Mount View Middle as having failed to reach the reading target for that same group. But, according to a news release from the county school system, those results are inaccurate and MSDE will recalculate the schools' proficiency levels by August.
For a school-by-school and grade-by-grade breakdown of the MSA scores, visit mdreportcard.org.