Schools press for further gains on MSA test


Howard County school officials do not want to rest on the laurels of having every elementary school in the county being at least 70 percent proficient in reading and math, or the fact that every racial and ethnic group in third- through eighth-grade met a stricter county standard in reading.

Instead, county officials are preparing to meet the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which requires states to set increasingly tougher accountability standards each year, and eventually have 100 percent of students pass statewide assessments by 2014.

"If anybody can do it, it's us," Sandra Erickson, the system's chief administrative and academic officer, said yesterday after results of the high-stakes Maryland School Assessment test were released. "We have the resources, we have the commitment of the county."

At the elementary school level, 80 percent of students in 33 schools reached proficiency in reading, while 30 schools reached that achievement level in mathematics, according to the results.

At seven schools, 95 percent of students reached proficiency in reading; seven reached that level in mathematics.

At the middle school level, 80 percent of students in 14 middle schools reached proficiency in reading -- Burleigh Manor recorded 95 percent -- and 11 reached 80 percent proficiency in mathematics.

Thunder Hill Elementary in Columbia recorded the highest mathematics and reading scores in the county.

"It's an absolute team effort," said Cynthia H. Hankin, principal at Thunder Hill, a school where 97 percent of students reached proficiency in reading and 98 percent in mathematics. "At Thunder Hill, we believe it takes a village to raise our children. It's a unified effort for staff, students, and parents."

Hankin said she and her staff look at each child as an individual, and devise ways to make each achieve his potential.

"Students are not over-tested," Hankin said. "We use these tests to look at how we need to change instruction. We need the results that the tests can give us."

Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said that it is important to make sure that high-performing schools continue to achieve.

"Even if they plateau, we want to put an emphasis, put resources to make sure we have [good] teachers," Cousin said.

Erickson said it is important to look at overall trends, and not just "blips." She added: "We just don't change everything because there was a [slight drop]."

For example, Clarksville Middle School's reading proficiency dropped 2 percentage points to 94 percent this year.

"Most experts will say that the higher scores you have, the harder it will be to keep them high," Erickson said.

School officials were particularly pleased with gains made by African-Americans, Hispanics and special-education students, and those who receive free and reduced-priced meals.

Erickson said there were several factors that contributed to the success of these groups, including the Black Student Achievement program; significant funding to the special-education program; the English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, program; and Title I money that helps schools with a larger proportion of low-income children.

"It's important to have these programs in place," she

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