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3 schools improve MSA test scores


Pupils at three Anne Arundel County schools that had failed to meet goals on state tests in the past have improved their performance this year, though the gains were not universal.

Two of the elementary schools, Freetown in Glen Burnie and Tyler Heights in Annapolis, posted double-digit gains on reading and math tests at nearly all grade levels.

However, the percentage of third- and fifth-grade pupils at Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn reaching advanced or proficient levels on the reading test - a criteria for avoiding state sanctions - dipped slightly. And the percentage of third- and fifth-graders in special education performing well - another yardstick - dropped.

More of Van Bokkelen's fourth- and fifth-graders scored well on the math test, however. The share in each grade increased about 15 percentage points to more than 64 percent.

"There are some bright spots. I am pleased with that," said Superintendent Eric J. Smith, referring to Van Bokkelen's performance.

State education officials use the results of the Maryland School Assessment to determine whether schools meet progress targets each year, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Different ethnic groups, as well as those receiving services such as special education or free or reduced-price lunch at each school, must also reach these goals. If a school fails to meet targets for any group for consecutive years, it can face sanctions such as staff restructuring.

The Maryland State Department of Education expects to announce which schools made "annual yearly progress" next week. High school scores will be released in August, county school officials said.

Freetown, Tyler Heights and Van Bokkelen are Title I schools, receiving federal funds because of their large populations of low-income pupils. They are among 14 schools that had a group of students that did not meet the state performance targets in the past. The three schools achieved those goals last year and could leave the state's "identified for improvement" list if they do so this year.

Their results show that kids at these schools "have a tremendous capacity to do high-level work," Smith said, challenging the notion that historically struggling schools can't succeed.

"You can see the equity coming through this," he said.

Anne Arundel schools officials declined to speculate whether the schools would make "annual yearly progress" because the state uses a number of factors in addition to the test performance to make that designation.

Fewer of Van Bokkelen's special-education pupils reached the proficient or advanced level on their tests. The share in third and fifth grade at that level dropped more than 18 percentage points on the reading tests; nearly 90 percent of fifth-graders in special education scored only at basic levels on the math test.

There are 10 third-graders in special education; nine fifth-graders receive those services.

"We're held to account for the performance of 20 or so students," said Roy Skiles, the county's assistant superintendent for school administrative services.

Smith said he was proud of the work of students, staff and Principal Rose Tasker, who is retiring.

"Even if we failed to meet [annual yearly progress] targets, she really has given us a platform," Smith said.

Tasker said she was "encouraged" by the scores.

However, she said, "we're still waiting to find out whether or not we had enough to make the state standards."

The principal met with the special-education team yesterday morning to share the results and was to meet with the staff yesterday afternoon.

"I want the entire staff to take ownership for all the scores," she said.

Slightly fewer Hispanic and English-language learners at Tyler Heights made state performance targets on the mathematics test as well. Only five of seven Latino students and three of five children with limited English ability scored at advanced or proficient levels.

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