Carroll schools' PARCC test scores again rank near top in Maryland

Carroll County Public Schools was again one of the top performing school districts in Maryland on the PARCC tests.

The county saw a 5.6 percentage point improvement in the number of third- through -eighth graders passing the English portion of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a rigorous test instituted for the first time in 2015. But the math section proved more tricky, with scores trending slightly downward in the lower grades.


Greg Bricca, the director of research and accountability for the school system, said local officials were most pleased with the gains made in middle school English Language Arts, and attributed that to an emphasis on writing over the past few years.

“Two years ago, the secondary ELA supervisors and school leaders … realized our reading scores were, on average, higher than the state, but our writing scores were at the state level,” he said. “So there was a real strong focus over the last year on writing.

“And I can tell you that area did go up at those [middle school] grade levels,” he said, adding that reading scores improved slightly as well.

Math scores at the elementary school level, however, have plateaued, Bricca said. “We didn’t see a whole lot of growth in those areas. We were outperforming most other counties last year.”

Overall, Maryland scores on the annual math and English assessments inched up this year. Statewide student pass rates increased by about 1 percentage point in English and math in elementary and middle schools.

Despite that increase, more than half the students in the state did not pass either the math or English tests. Only 41.6 percent of students statewide passed the English test in grades three through eight, and only 34.1 percent passed in math.

"I know our schools and our teachers and our administrators are making some important efforts to improve performance across the state. But I recognize we still have work to do,” said Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon at a board meeting Tuesday morning as the scores were released to the public.

Scores on the two high school PARCC tests showed a dramatic drop that was attributed by state officials to a large uptick in students taking the test twice and failing both times. “As you might expect, the students who are repeating the test are doing so because they did not score” well, said Dara Shaw, the state education department’s director of research. “These students are now repeating the test and they are the lower achieving students." The math and English PARCC tests are high stakes test required for graduation and students can take the tests multiple times in an attempt to pass.

Scores for 10th-grade English went down 6.9 percentage points and Algebra scores dropped by 5.3 percentage points.

Carroll saw high school scores drop as well. Bricca noted this was the first year in which students needed to pass the PARCC exams in order to graduate.

“In all the other years, we just gave it once to a student and the chips fell where they were — you either passed or failed and you moved on,” he explained. “This year anyone who had failed needs to come in and test again, so we have a bunch of retesters in there who have already demonstrated this isn’t necessarily the way they can demonstrate their learning or they have significant gaps in learning and we’ve thrown those back into the mix, which brings the average scores down a little bit.”

Across the state, the scores of African-American, Hispanic, special education and low-income children increased more than their peers in many grades and subjects, an encouraging sign for student groups with historically low pass rates.

For instance, African-American pass rates were up 1.6 percentage points in English in grades three through eight over last year, compared to a 1.3 percentage point gain for white students and a 0.6 percentage-point increase for Asian students.

Statewide, the percentage of students learning English — first- and second-generation immigrants — had higher pass rates in both English and math.


Bricca said he’ll make a more formal presentation to the Board of Education on the PARCC data on Sept. 12. In the meantime, schools have already started rolling data into school improvement plans after they received individual scores earlier in the summer.

“We will do individual student learning plans and then will be able to identify weaknesses or strengths,” Bricca said. “Certainly we want them to celebrate their strengths … but they really do get to work immediately identifying weaknesses and where to improve.”

Carroll Superintendent Steve Lockard emphasized that while PARCC is an important part of the state’s accountability program, it’s just one piece of data the school system uses to gauge system and individual student progress.

“Our teachers know our kids are more than just a test score at any given point in time,” Lockard said. “So while it provides us good meaningful data and good valuable information, we use it in conjunction with a lot of things to support our students and their success.”

Bricca also noted that this coming school year is the last that Maryland will use the PARCC exam, which will be replaced with the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, or MCAP. The new test will operate under the same standards, but the computer adaptive test should take less time than PARCC.

“It’ll be shorter, and one of the biggest complaints about PARCC was the amount of time it took and the disruption to the school and the disruption from learning,” Bricca said. “It’ll be a computer adaptive test — it’s basically scoring you as you go. Right now, you might take 50 questions, all of them vary in difficulty levels to see where you fall. An adaptive test will ratchet up very quickly and it’ll be able to make some question judgments to really determine what level of learning it is in a fewer number of questions. That’s one of the ways it’ll be shorter, which will be helpful to students as they move through.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and Talia Richman contributed to this article.