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County MSA scores up

The Baltimore Sun

Fourth-graders at Gamber's Mechanicsville Elementary are the first group in the Carroll County school system to report a 100 percent pass rate on the reading and math tests of the Maryland School Assessment, according to results released from the State Department of Education.

"Obviously, we're very, very proud of the staff and students," said the school's principal, Robin Townsend. "If one grade can do it, our hope is third and fifth can, also."

Test scores rose at schools throughout the county, with slight decreases only in fifth-grade reading and third-grade math. At every level, county schools exceeded state averages.

The average third-grade reading score for Carroll schools was 84 percent; fourth grade was 89.8 percent; and fifth was 84.4 percent. For math, the average scores were 86.4 percent for third grade, 92.3 percent for fourth grade and 87.3 percent for fifth grade.

For middle schools, the average reading score for sixth grade was 88.5 percent. Seventh- and eighth-grade averages stood at 83.5 and 79.2 percent, respectively. In math, the sixth-grade average was 85.7 percent; the seventh, 72.6 percent; and the eighth, 66.7 percent.

"I'm generally satisfied with the scores," Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said. "We did very well again."

Ecker said he was particularly pleased with improvements at Robert Moton Elementary, which did not meet adequate yearly progress last year but brought in higher test scores on every level this year except third-grade math.

While he doesn't know whether those improvements will mean the school has met adequate yearly progress this time around, Ecker said, "from these scores, it appears that they will."

Noteworthy gains in reading were made at Mount Airy Elementary School, where scores for fourth grade had dropped significantly last year because some tests were invalidated after cheating was discovered.

At Manchester Elementary, third-grade reading scores jumped by more than 25 percent to 89.3, and a double-digit increase also emerged in fourth-grade math.

"We were just thrilled with the progress we've made," said Bob Mitchell, the Manchester Elementary principal, of the results, which he attributed to a combination of factors. He pointed to efforts that aimed to align instruction and intervention programs with student needs. For the past couple of years, he added, Manchester has served about 60 targeted students in an "extended learning program," he said, which involved after-school reading and math instruction.

"I think that has made a difference," Mitchell said.

Townsend said grade-level and resource teachers at Mechanicsville would meet regularly in "kid talk" meetings, where they would discuss students they had concerns about.

"As a team, they come up with strategies that they can use" with a particular student, Townsend said. "We feel very strongly about sharing the responsibility for these kids."

Significant developments emerged among the subgroups as well. For the first time, the percentage of Hispanic students who passed the fourth-grade reading test exceeded the percentage of white students. Hispanic students also significantly closed the gap in sixth-grade reading and third-, fifth-, sixth- and eighth-grade math. Third-grade black students cut the gap by almost half in reading, while the disparities increased for fourth-, fifth- and seventh-grade reading.

Special education scores also rose overall, although they dropped in fifth-grade reading and third- and fifth-grade math.

Lorraine Fulton, assistant superintendent of instruction, said she was "extremely pleased" with school test results, but "not at all complacent."

"Even with that good news in reading, we still are not satisfied, and we're going to continue to move forward," she said.

She pointed to a new, two-year reading improvement plan, expected to launch this fall, that will introduce more frequent assessments of student skills and foster consistent practices and smoother transitions from one level to another.

A committee is also looking into systemwide improvements in math, she said, and another improvement plan has been written for middle schools. With those future changes, "I think that we're going to see even higher results," Fulton said.

At Mechanicsville, Townsend said, educators are likely to turn their attention to how to move students that scored proficient to the advanced level.

"Now that we know that it is really possible for this to happen, it does definitely raise the bar for upcoming years," Townsend said.

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