The Maryland State Department of Education released more data this week on student achievement, offering a sobering look at how the pandemic has affected school systems across the region.
The scores come from the first Maryland standardized tests given since the beginning of the pandemic. The assessments measured a student’s proficiency in English language arts, math and science at the grade level they completed the year before. Students in grades 3 through 8 as well as some high schools completed the testing in the fall.
Even before the pandemic, the standardized tests known as the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program were considered difficult. More than half of the state’s public school students regularly failed tests given in math and English in grades three through eight, as well as in some high school subjects.
Scores have fallen since Maryland students were last tested in spring of 2019. However, state leaders say this year’s standardized exams were short diagnostic tests aimed at giving teachers and school leaders a snapshot of the pandemic’s effect on learning. The tests were not intended to provide the detailed view of achievement provided by the much longer, federally mandated tests usually given each spring.
The state released in December an early snapshot of the assessments, showing just 15% of public school students passed in math and 35% passed in English. It marked the greatest single-year declines on any state tests given in at least the past two decades in Maryland. Data released this week offered a deeper look at student proficiency within each school system.
Percent proficient on early fall 2021 MCAP standardized tests
In Baltimore City, just 7% of elementary students in grades 3-5 were proficient in math, 9% were proficient in English language arts and 16% were proficient in science. Another 8% of the city’s middle schoolers in grades 6-7 scored proficient in math, 19% in English and 12% in science.
Students at the high school level were found to be 15% proficient in science and 39% in English. Baltimore City’s districtwide proficiency was not reported for algebra and geometry assessments given at the middle and high school levels.
In a statement Thursday, city school officials said they are “keenly aware of the learning loss many students have experienced due to the ongoing pandemic.”
The school system has a COVID recovery plan in place to support students’ social, emotional and academic needs, said spokesman André Riley in an email. The recovery plan’s strategies include accelerated learning, tutoring, small group instruction, digital learning platforms and extended learning opportunities for students who are not meeting grade-level standards. School system leaders review the fall standardized testing scores along with various assessments throughout the school year and anecdotal information from teachers, students, and families.
Baltimore County students fared somewhat better than the city. The state data shows 18% of the county’s elementary students in grades 3-5 scored proficient in math, 25% in English and 40% in science.
In grades 6-8, 17% of students were proficient in math, 37% in English and 34% in science. High schoolers faired better on the assessments, with 60% of 10th graders scoring proficient in English and 45% in science.
About 16% of the county’s middle and high school students who completed algebra and geometry courses scored proficient in the assessments.
Baltimore County school system representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Math proficiency significantly lags English Language Arts
The distribution of individual schools’ proficiency percentages on 8th grade assessments is emblematic of the 20 percentage point gap statewide between the share of math tests scored as proficient (15%) and the share of ELA tests scored as such (35%).
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The state also released data measuring kindergarten readiness, meaning the knowledge, skills and behaviors a student has when they begin kindergarten. School systems in 21 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions administered an assessment to 73% of the state’s kindergarteners in the fall, finding that 40% demonstrated readiness.
That’s a 7% decrease from how kindergarteners performed on the assessment prior in 2019. Only 65% of kindergarteners were assessed that year, according to state records.
Other school systems around the region achieved the following scores:
- Anne Arundel County elementary students were 19% proficient in math, 25% proficient in English and 45% proficient in science. Middle schoolers scored better in English, with 42% demonstrating proficiency. At the high school level, 58% of 10th graders passed English and 57% in science. Only 6% of students who completed algebra and geometry courses were proficient, according to the assessment data. Anne Arundel school representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
- Carroll County schools outperformed the state average across grade levels in most content areas. About 33% of elementary students were proficient in math, 35% were proficient in English and 56% were proficient in science. Just 17% of middle school students were proficient in math, but 48% and 43% were proficient in English and science, respectively. Nearly half of 10th graders were proficient in English and 54% of high schoolers were proficient in science. Carroll County school officials were proud of student performance despite timing challenges, student and employee quarantines and staffing shortages, said school system coordinator Lauren Nicole Wilder-Schaeffer.
- Harford County elementary students were 20% proficient in math and 27% proficient in English. Nearly half of fifth-graders tested proficient in science. About 24% of middle schoolers were assessed as proficient in math, 42% in English and 43% in science. A majority of high schoolers passed the 10th grade English assessment, at 62%. And 48% passed in science. About 6% of students who completed algebra and geometry courses were deemed proficient. Harford school representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
- Howard County also fared better than the state as a whole. About 36% of elementary students passed math, 37% in English and 55% in science. More than half of middle schoolers were proficient in English and science, although 24% were proficient in math. High schoolers also did well, with 71% of 10th graders passing the English assessment and 62% passing in science. About 19% of students who completed algebra and geometry courses were deemed proficient. Howard school representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Maryland’s declines in student achievement reflect a wider nationwide trend as school systems attempt to recover from three academic years interrupted by a pandemic. And many school systems are also balancing widespread staffing shortages and intense public pressure over curriculum and COVID-19 mitigation measures such as masking and vaccines.
Maryland students were among the last in the nation to return to school buildings, which is reflected in the data, State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said in December.
Students are expected to complete another expanded round of state proficiency assessments later this spring.
Baltimore Sun data journalist Steve Earley and Baltimore Sun Media reporter Cameron Goodnight contributed to this article.