The number of Maryland elementary and middle schools on the state's list of poor performers grew slightly last year -- in part, officials said, because the standards are getting tougher every year.
Statewide, 176 schools are on the list -- including more than 60 in Baltimore City and, for the first time, two in Howard County. A school gets the "needs improvement" label for failing to meet federal standards two years in a row.
Nine more schools made the list this time, or 16 percent of schools overall. Maryland State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick played down the increase, saying it masks the fact that a larger number of children are passing reading and math tests required by federal law.
"Scores of our schools are making the grade, even as performance goals move up another notch," she said in a statement.
The number of Anne Arundel County schools on the list stayed about the same, but four more Baltimore County schools were added to the six already failing. Five Baltimore City schools improved enough to get off the list, but seven more were added.
The annual list is based on how students score on the Maryland School Assessments, reading and math tests given in third through eighth grade.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools are expected to have a greater percentage of students passing the tests each year until the 2013-2014 school year -- when every child in the nation is supposed to be passing their state's test.
In Maryland, 66 percent of students had to pass the tests last school year for a school to meet standards; next year, the goal will rise to 71 percent.
But the complicated rating formula considers more than a school's performance as a whole. A percentage of certain groups of students in a school -- African-American, low-income and special-education students -- also must pass for the school to meet what the federal government calls "adequate yearly progress."
So a school such as Brooklyn Park Middle School in Anne Arundel County can miss meeting the federal standard because a small number of its African-American and special-education students did not pass the reading test.
In Howard County, Murray Hill Middle and Oakland Mills Middle were added to the state list. At Oakland Mill, more than 85 percent of Asian-American and white students passed the tests, but only 55 percent of African-American students passed, too few to meet the standard.
Across the state, middle schools are doing far worse than the elementary schools, a problem acknowledged by Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin Maxwell. "We have some work to do on the middle school level," he said. "I am confident that the reforms we have enacted ... will result in substantial increases in student achievement."
Statewide, 52 schools were added to the list because of two years of poor performance, but others were taken off the list after two years of improved performance. The school system that showed the most improvement was Prince George's, which had 11 elementary schools come off the list.
Harford County had one school improve enough to get off the list, but another was added. No schools in Carroll County failed to meet standards.
Howard County's coordinator of testing, Portia White, said the county is continuing to delve into why the two schools failed for a second year and what can be done to improve student performance there.
"We are not focusing on the label as much as we are focusing on what the students need," White said.
Baltimore County now has nine of its 28 middle schools labeled as underperforming. Parents of children in six of those schools -- those with a relatively high percentage of low-income students -- have the right to transfer their children to better schools in the county. And dozens are doing so, with students now being bused from some west-side county middle schools to high performing schools in the northern part of the county.
The school district is now focused on trying to improve instruction for special-education students, a group that has a higher failure rate than many others. Baltimore County has focused on making sure that the letter of the law is followed for those special-education students, said spokeswoman Kara Calder.
"We really need to strike a balance between the time and effort on compliance and delivering instruction to the children," Calder said.
In Baltimore, 54 percent of the city's elementary schools met the standards, but nearly all of the city's traditional middle schools fell short. Less than half of the city's combined K-8 schools met the benchmark.
"There's a lot of work to be done," said Andres Alonso, the city chief executive officer who started last month.
Alonso said the results provide "an incomplete picture" because they do not account for a school's growth.
For example, if students enter a school far below grade level and make substantial progress but are still not up to grade level at the time they take the state tests, the school fails to make adequate yearly progress. Conversely, if students enter a school well prepared but the school does little to enhance their achievement, it may make the grade anyway.
Despite the imperfect measure, Alonso said, "this is clearly something where as a system, we need to do better." He said he is interested in finding the pockets of excellence within failing schools to determine how they can be replicated.
Sun reporters Sara Neufeld and Ruma Kumar contributed to this article.
Schools at risk
These elementary and middle schools have failed to meet state standards for at least two years in a row. Schools that fail to meet standards for five years can be threatened with state takeover.
Anne Arundel County
Brooklyn Park Middle
KIPP Harbor Academy at Annapolis
Wiley H. Bates Middle
Alexander Hamilton Elementary
Alternative Learning Center
Benjamin Franklin Jr. Middle
Booker T. Washington Middle
Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle
City Springs Elementary
Collington Square Elementary
Commodore John Rogers Elementary
ConneXions Community Leadership Academy
Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson Pre-K through 8
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary
Dr. Nathan A. Pitts Ashburton Elementary/Middle
Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy
Fort Worthington Elementary
George G. Kelson Elementary
Harford Heights Intermediate
Harford Heights Primary
Harlem Park Middle
Highlandtown Elementary #215
James McHenry Elementary
Johnston Square Elementary
Mary E. Rodman Elementary
Moravia Park Primary
Morrell Park Elementary/Middle
North Bend Elementary
Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle
Robert Poole Middle
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary
Samuel F. B. Morse Elementary
Sinclair Lane Elementary
Steuart Hill Academic Academy
Tench Tilghman Elementary
Thomas G. Hayes Elementary
Thurgood Marshall Middle School
Walter P. Carter Elementary
West Baltimore Middle
William H. Lemmel Middle
Woodbourne Day School
Deer Park Middle Magnet School
Golden Ring Middle
Loch Raven Technical Academy
Old Court Middle
White Oak School
Murray Hill Middle
Oakland Mills Middle
Schools on the mend
These schools have been removed from the state's list of poor performers because they have shown significant improvement for at least two years.
Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle
General Wolfe Elementary
Harriet Tubman Elementary
Rognel Heights Elementary/Middle
Windsor Hills Elementary
Source: State Dept. of Education
>>>>The list A compilation of those area schools at risk - and those that are on the mend. pg 7b