The number of elementary and middle schools in Maryland failing to meet state standards in math and reading decreased slightly this year, with troubled schools continuing to be concentrated in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, according to data released yesterday.
Of the state's more than 1,000 elementary and middle schools, 173 were deemed "in need of improvement" - a drop from last year's 179 - in this annual reckoning of how well schools measure up on the Maryland School Assessment exams given every March.
While 10 of the 22 schools to be promoted off Maryland's list of failing schools were in Baltimore and Prince George's, the two systems are still struggling to make the progress demanded under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Of the 173 schools that fell short, 129 were in those two jurisdictions, including all of Baltimore's traditional middle schools.
In Baltimore's suburbs, teachers and principals are still bedeviled by the federal mandate that all groups of children - including special-education pupils, minorities and children from low-income families - meet standards. However, newly relaxed rules regarding disabled children may offer some relief.
While low-performing schools in Baltimore tended to fail in many testing areas, suburban schools often missed the mark in just one or two, frequently special education.
State education officials said they were pleased with the progress among some pupils in grades three through eight but would like to see more.
"It's very hard work," said state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick. "My feeling is it is working. There's never been such a focus on the quality of instruction."
The list of schools released yesterday remains tentative, as local officials may appeal for schools that barely fell short. To be included on the list, a school must fail to meet the state goal in the same subject - reading or math - for at least two years in a row.
The longer a school remains on the state's radar, the more onerous the penalties become. In the first two years, schools with large percentages of poor pupils must provide free tutoring or allow transfers to other schools. In the third and fourth year on the list, schools must develop and implement detailed plans to restructure themselves, such as by hiring a turnaround specialist or replacing staff.
Statewide, 11 schools joined the list for the first time. Twenty-two schools - including nine in Baltimore, two in Anne Arundel County and one in Baltimore County - are expected to be promoted off the list because they made two consecutive years of progress.
State officials also said 48 schools turned a corner on this spring's exams and could be removed from the watch list if they meet goals again next year.
The data released yesterday on troubled schools, however, provides only a partial picture. It included only schools that were new to the list; schools that were listed last year and whose status has not changed; and schools that improved enough to be taken off.
State officials declined to name schools that failed to make "adequate yearly progress" for the first time, or even say how many there were. Those schools - to be identified later - may appeal their results and do not face penalties this year.
Adequate yearly progress is a moving target, becoming more difficult each year as states move to meet the No Child Left Behind directive that all public school students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. To make adequate progress this year, more than half of pupils in an elementary school must show proficiency in math and reading. In middle school, more than half of pupils must pass the reading test, and more than a third must pass math.
In Howard County, 52 of 56 elementary and middle schools hit the state's targets. The four schools that failed - identified by county officials as Cradlerock School, Phelps Luck Elementary and two middle schools, Patuxent Valley and Wilde Lake - missed because either too few special-education pupils or too few non-native English speakers passed.
Howard officials said they would probably appeal for all four schools because a handful of pupils' passing the tests would have made a difference. In the schools that failed because of disabled pupils' performance, officials will argue that they would have been eligible for a "modified" Maryland School Assessment - a shorter and simpler test that 2 percent of disabled students statewide can take next year as a result of relaxed federal rules.
In Anne Arundel, 88 of the county's 98 elementary and middle schools made adequate progress. Two schools face new sanctions for failing to meet standards for a second year, and a third is in a holding pattern because it failed in a different subject than in previous years. Seven others - including five that failed because of special education pupils' performance - missed annual targets for the first time and are to be monitored by local officials.
Four Arundel schools did well enough to move off the state's list next year if they continue to meet goals. Freetown and Tyler Heights elementary schools earned their way off the state list.
In Baltimore, schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland said two-thirds of the city's 88 elementary schools made adequate progress. None of the city's two dozen traditional middle schools made the grade, and half of combined elementary-middle schools did, she said.
Of the eight schools removed from the state list, many have recently begun literacy initiatives. Next year, the system plans to spread the efforts and begin focusing on math, another weak area for many schools.
Edward Cozzolino, principal of Brehms Lane Elementary in northeast Baltimore, said his school's staff and parents were thrilled to be removed from the list for steady reading gains. The school's third-graders went from being ranked fifth-lowest in Baltimore four years ago to being 10th-highest among city schools this year, he said.
"I'm also retiring from education [this year], so this is truly a very sweet ending," said Cozzolino, who came to the school three years ago under a state program to place outstanding principals in troubled schools.
For the second consecutive year, Baltimore County had seven schools on the state list. Winfield Elementary in Windsor Mill is likely to be promoted off, but Arbutus Middle joins because its special-education pupils missed the grade.
James R. Wolgamott, principal of Sandalwood Elementary School in Essex, said his school made adequate progress and needs one more year of similar gains to come off the state list. The school increased tutoring opportunities, targeted pupils who were just a few points away from passing and boosted parent involvement.
In Carroll County, where all schools made adequate progress in 2004, three of the county's 27 schools missed the mark this year, local officials said. Special-education students at Robert Moton Elementary in Westminster and North Carroll Middle in Hampstead fell short, and at West Middle in Westminster, students with limited English skills did not pass reading, according to county officials who said they might appeal.
In Harford County, 36 of 40 elementary and middle schools made adequate progress, with scores among special-education students posing the biggest problem. At Edgewood Middle, disabled and African-American pupils did not pass.
Two Harford middle schools that did not meet state standards last year, North Harford and Aberdeen, achieved them this year.
Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said the improvement plans that some schools must develop will emphasize teacher training.
Said Haas: "We have great teachers that want their kids to do well. We just need to make sure they have all the tools and models to do so."
Sun staff writers Hanah Cho, Gina Davis, Liz F. Kay, Josh Mitchell and Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.
To see the complete list of Maryland elementary and middle schools identified for improvement, go to baltimoresun.com/schools.