Baltimore-area students are showing signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels of proficiency in English language arts but still lag in mathematics, according to newly released scores from a spring 2022 standardized assessment of Maryland public school students.
The Maryland State Department of Education released a statewide snapshot in December of public school students’ overall scores on the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program. This standardized test, which the state administered for the first time in spring 2022, hinted at resilience amid the coronavirus pandemic in English language arts — but also produced ominous scores in math.
New MCAP data released Tuesday offers districts, educators and families a first-time look at the performance of the state’s 24 school systems.
In Baltimore City, just 21% of third through eighth graders scored proficient in English language arts, and 7% were deemed proficient in math. The city’s 10th graders scored slightly better in English, with 34% achieving proficient scores. Less than 5% of city students tested in Algebra 1 scored proficient.
City schools’ top administrator, Sonja Santelises, told school commissioners Tuesday evening that investments in literacy prior to the pandemic were paying off and gaining momentum, but more focus is needed in math.
“Our entire state went down, plummeted in mathematics,” Santelises said. “We did not wait for release of MCAP to start planning for acceleration in mathematics.”
Administrators already have convened experts and city partners internally to develop a strategic plan to improve student proficiency in math. Santelises told school board members to expect a presentation on a strategic plan later this spring.
In Baltimore County, about 38% of students in grades three through eight scored proficient in English, while 19% were proficient in math. At the high school level, 46% of 10th graders were proficient in English, while just 7% of students tested in Algebra 1 scored proficient.
In Anne Arundel County, 49% of third through eighth graders were proficient in English language arts, while 23% were proficient in math. About 56% of 10th graders were proficient in English. And 17% of students who tested for Algebra 1 scored proficient.
Carroll County performed well on the assessments compared to other parts of the region.
About 60% of the county’s third through eighth graders were proficient in English language arts, placing them higher than the state average as a whole. And the same grades ranked highest in the state in math, with 38% being considered proficient. Meanwhile, 62% of Carroll 10th graders were proficient in English, and 26% of students were proficient in Algebra 1.
In Harford County, 49% of students in grades three through eight passed the English language arts assessment, and 26% were proficient in math. In high school, 57% of 10th graders passed the English assessment, while 14% of students who tested in Algebra 1 scored proficient.
Howard County students also showed resiliency. About 57% of third through eighth graders were proficient in English language arts, and 36% were proficient in math. About 60% of 10th graders passed the English assessment, and 32% of students tested in Algebra 1 scored proficient, the highest in the state.
The scores across the Baltimore region echo Maryland students’ performance as a whole, showing resilience in English but setbacks in math. And those results are an improvement over a shorter diagnostic test collected in late 2021, marking a return to pre-pandemic outcomes for several grade levels, officials with the state Department of Education said in December.
In English language arts, about 45% of the state’s third and fourth graders, along with 40% of fifth graders, tested proficient. At the high school level, 53% of students passed the 10th grade English assessment.
And Maryland students overall showed improvement in mathematics in spring 2022 compared to the fall 2021 diagnostic test, but officials noted that outcomes had not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Just 18.2% of sixth graders scored proficient in math on the spring 2022 assessment, and 6.5% of eighth graders were proficient. About 14.5% of high school students tested in Algebra I were proficient in 2022 compared to 27% of students deemed proficient in 2019 by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment.
The MCAP assessment notably takes less time to complete than the PARCC test. Beginning in 2023, it will also adjust questions, making them easier or harder, for students based on their previous answers.
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Prior to the pandemic, Maryland relied on the PARCC assessment to measure students’ knowledge in core subjects. Former state superintendent Karen Salmon and Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans in 2018 to pivot away from PARCC testing, which critics said disrupted instruction for several weeks each spring and required computers for students to take the tests in grades three through eight, as well as twice in high school.
The state was gearing up to replace those tests with MCAP during the 2019-20 academic year. However, those plans were put on hold in early 2020 when Maryland’s state board of education applied for and received a waiver from federal requirements to give assessments due to the pandemic.
School buildings remained shuttered in many districts across the region until early 2021. And standardized testing did not resume for Maryland students until later that fall, when the state administered the short diagnostic test to give teachers and school leaders a look at of the pandemic’s effect on learning. Officials at the time cautioned it was not intended to provide the detailed view of achievement provided by the much longer, federally mandated tests usually given in the spring.
The 2021 diagnostic test showed just 15% of public school students passed in math and 35% passed in English. Those scores marked the greatest single-year declines on any state tests given in at least the past two decades in Maryland.
The array of standardized tests administered by the state over the past few years offers an imperfect metric for comparing student performance before and after the start of the pandemic. Even before the global crisis shuttered school buildings in Maryland, more than half of the state’s public school students regularly failed the standardized tests given in math and English in grades three through eight, as well as in some high school subjects.
Meanwhile, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, yet another standardized test, administered to a sampling of fourth and eighth graders nationwide, was given between January and March of 2022. The test coincided with a dangerous outbreak tied to the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The NAEP national data released in October shows that Maryland students experienced some of the sharpest drops in the nation between 2019 and 2022 in math and reading.
The batches of standardized test scores from 2022 are being published as Maryland embarks on a massive 10-year plan to overhaul the state’s education, referred to as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The plan will infuse $3.8 billion into schools over the next 10 years.
A previous version of this story cited an outdated sixth grade math scores average from the 2022 MCAP assessment as well as the format of the test. The Sun regrets the errors.