- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) | Maryland public school students in grades 3 through 8 continue to improve steadily on the standardized tests that measure whether schools are meeting federal standards, according to test scores released Tuesday.

The state has also narrowed the achievement gap that separates blacks and Hispanic students from whites and Asian-Americans, though in some cases the chasm remains significant.

The two jurisdictions with the largest numbers of minorities and children living in poverty - Baltimore city and Prince George’s County - continue to trail Maryland’s 22 other school systems.

The Maryland School Assessments were given to nearly 366,000 students in March. The state has administered the test since 2003, and scores have steadily increased every year.

Statewide, 4th-graders scored the best. In reading and math, 88.5 percent of them were found to be proficient or better.

Eighth-graders had the worst scores, particularly in math. While 72.8 percent of them statewide were proficient or better in reading, just 61.8 percent were proficient in math.

Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the scores could be attributed in part to a shortage of qualified math teachers.

In Baltimore city, 29.4 percent of 8th-graders were proficient in math, and 49 percent were proficient in reading. The numbers represented an improvement of more than five percentage points in both categories over 2007’s results.

The scores were slightly better in Prince George’s, where students who receive free or reduced-price meals represent a smaller portion of the total student body.

In Prince George’s, 42.4 percent of 8th-graders met the standards in math, while 56.8 percent were proficient in English. Again, the numbers represent an improvement of about five percentage points over 2007. Scores in the two jurisdictions will have to improve at a much faster rate to reach the federal No Child Left Behind goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

The test scores are used to measure whether schools are meeting “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind, and schools that don’t improve enough can have teachers and principals fired or be taken over by the state or by private entities. Such data will be released later this summer.

Test scores must improve not only for schools as a whole but in five separate racial categories and in subgroups including special-education students, students with limited English proficiency and students living in poverty.

The racial breakdowns demonstrate the persistent, but narrowing, achievement gap. Among elementary school students, 94.7 percent of Asians and 91.7 percent of whites were proficient in math, while 78 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of blacks achieved proficiency. The 17.6-percentage point disparity between blacks and whites is about half the size of the gap in 2003, when just 40 percent of blacks were proficient in math.

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