Fourth- through sixth-graders in Baltimore public schools showed double-digit gains in math on state assessment tests, a dramatic improvement city schools officials attribute to a new curriculum, a relatively stable school year and a practice exam given before the test modeled after the state's version.
Passing rates for fourth-graders in math rose to 73 percent this year, 11 points higher than 2006. For fifth-graders, 64 percent passed, up 10 percentage points from last year. In sixth grade, 42 percent passed, an 11 percentage point increase.
"This took good curriculum and good instruction," said Benjamin Feldman, who is in charge of testing for city schools, of the improved scores. "We had more highly qualified teachers this year. And a better teacher delivers a better product."
Overall, the percentage of city students passing the Maryland State Assessments in reading and math in third through eighth grade improved, rising in every category except seventh-grade reading, where 44 percent passed, a 2-point decline from 2006.
While city students in some grades performed better on the tests, passing levels for seventh- and eighth-graders in math remained near the bottom of all districts in the state.
Only about 26 percent of city seventh-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders passed the math assessment. Throughout the state, about 63 percent of all middle school students passed math.
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she was encouraged by some of the city's results. But she said certain areas remain far from the goal, which calls for 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014 as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"You can see improvements [in the city], but there is still huge gaps in getting to the goal," Grasmick said.
Overall gains in reading in city elementary and middle schools were marginal, with passing rates ranging from 60 percent to 73 percent for third- through fifth-graders, 44 to 53 percent for middle school students.
Sixth-graders saw the largest increase in reading, jumping to a 54 percent passing rate, 8 percentage points higher than last year.
City schools officials said the corrective action plan implemented by the state two years ago as a result of so many failing schools in the district is paying dividends.
"Let's give the state some credit; we're looking at the result of a better curriculum that is maturing," Feldman said.
Feldman added that the city schools had a calm year with no major weather-related delays to the schedule. Feldman also said the system allowed for all students to take standardized "practice" tests for the first time.
"We gave them a dress rehearsal," he said. "We gave all the kids a local test modeled on the state test with the same demands because often, children hit the state tests and they flop."
Roland Park Elementary/Middle, George Washington, Cecil and Mount Washington elementary schools were the highest performing, all with a pupil passing rate in the 90th percentile for math and reading.
Collington Square, City Springs, George G. Kelson and Commodore John Rogers elementary schools were the lowest performing, with student passing rates ranging from 33 percent to 42 percent.