A few days into the review of Harford County pupils' performance on the Maryland School Assessment, educators are upbeat about a marked improvement in math skills and concerned about static reading scores.
In math, Harford eighth-graders posted an overall increase of nearly eight points on the annual performance test. The number of middle-school pupils who passed the math portion of the testing was up 5.3 percentage points in sixth and seventh grades.
A few schools showed outstanding results. At Edgewood Middle, math scores for sixth-graders increased by 16 percentage points. Magnolia Middle's eighth grade also posted a 16 percentage-point increase, while the school's seventh grade improved by nearly 19 percentage points.
At the elementary level, the number of pupils who passed the math testing rose modestly: 1.5 percentage points in sixth grade, 3.4 percentage points in seventh and 2.2 percentage points in eighth. Meanwhile, all fifth-graders at Darlington Elementary passed the math portion of the testing.
"Our students worked hard and really came up to the test this year," said Sarah Morris, mathematics supervisor. "They made great gains in proficiency."
In addition to the effort by the children, Morris credited the teaching staff, who all participated in development workshops dedicated to math strategies.
School improvement teams will begin meeting this week to map out curriculum and "decide if new plans need to be implemented so the needs of all students are met," said Carolyn Wood, supervisor of accountability.
"We want to move consistently toward proficiency," Wood said. "We look at the overall numbers covering a wide variety of students with different needs."
Low math scores last year prompted a stronger effort in county classrooms that paid off in higher scores, officials said.
"Math is an area where we had real concerns and we are seeing across-the-board improvements," said Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas.
Harford County saw "more ups and downs" in the reading scores, Haas said. Reading scores dropped 2 percentage points for Harford's sixth-graders, while the number of seventh- and eighth-graders who passed increased by 4.1 and 4.9 percentage points, respectively.
Although third-graders at Darlington Elementary posted a 100 percent passing rate on the reading test and Norrisville fourth-graders repeated their 100 percent score for a second consecutive year, scores among third-graders countywide dipped by 0.7 percentage points.
"This is something we certainly will look at," Haas said. "If the state is mirroring the same thing, we can question what this is all about, but we are still left with solving the problem and how to turn this around."
The test score review this week will include a look at the reading curriculum to make sure all schools are implementing programs consistently, Wood said.
"MSA is a high-stakes test, but not our only source of information," Wood said. "This just kicks off the school improvement season."
The MSA is designed to show what students should know at various levels throughout their school years, said Don Morrison, spokesman for Harford County schools.
"The fact that each level appears to be making progress is encouraging," he said. "If you are improving, you must be doing a better job with curriculum and teaching strategies."