Prince George’s County elementary school math and reading scores are down compared to last year, ending a positive four-year streak on state tests, and officials say next year may not be much better.
A change in how special education students are tested on the Maryland State Assessment, which tests the reading and math abilities of public school students in grades 3 through 8, and the transition to Common Core State Standards, a national education initiative to bring school systems in line with a common curriculum, is believed to have contributed to the county’s decline on test scores — which mirrored an overall statewide decline.
Overall, county elementary schools saw a decline in both elementary and math scores; 79.4 percent of elementary students scored proficient or advanced in reading, a drop of 2.5 percentage points over last year, while 75.5 percent scored proficient or advanced in math, a drop of 3.6 percentage points over last year.
County middle schools saw a 2.4 percentage point improvement in reading compared to last year, with 75.7 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced, but declined 2.6 percentage points in math, with only 60.1 percent scoring proficient or advanced.
Similarly, statewide, only middle school reading scores showed improvement, with 83.4 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced, a 1.3 percentage point increase over 2012.
Statewide, 86.4 percent of students scored at least proficient in elementary reading, and 83.9 percent scored at least proficient in elementary math, a drop of 1.8 and 3.8 percentage points respectively. Statewide middle school math scores also declined, with only 72.2 percent scoring at least proficient, a 4 percentage point drop over last year.
Based on the MSA results, Prince George’s ranks 22nd out of Maryland’s 24 school districts, outperforming only Dorchester County Public Schools and Baltimore City Public Schools, for elementary school math and reading, and middle school reading.
In middle school math scores, Prince George’s lags more than 12 percentage points below the state average and ranks next to last, followed only by Baltimore city.
The drop in Prince George’s scores are most significant in fifth-grade math proficiency, which dropped from 75.5 percent in 2012 to 68.2 percent in 2013, and sixth-grade math, which dropped from 76.4 percent in 2012 to 71.1 percent in 2013.
Prior to the 2013 results, math scores in fifth and sixth grades had been on a steady rise for four years.
The biggest gains were in seventh-grade reading, which increased from 71.0 percent in 2012 to 77.1 in 2013. Eighth grade reading scores increased 1.8 percentage points and eighth grade math increased 1.4 percentage points between 2012 and 2013.
“We have been really focusing on our middle schools,” said A. Duane Arbogast, chief academic officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools. “We’ve been getting better at analyzing the data and implementing the appropriate instructional response.”
Arbogast said the drop in reading and math scores is likely due to changes in the way the test is administered to special education students.
“Several years ago, the state decided to create a modified MSA for special education students, attempting to mitigate the effects on the MSA results,” Arbogast said, referring to tests that accounted for students’ special needs. “In 2013, the administrators got rid of the Mod MSA.”
Arbogast said another reason for the drop could be the transition to Common Core State Standards. Maryland public schools began implementing the standards last year, Arbogast said, but the assessment based on Common Core standards will not be fully implemented until the 2014-15 school year.
“This misalignment will certainly affect our scores this year and next,” Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery said in a news release.
“Even though we did not see those gains this year, we believe we have systems in place to encourage higher student achievement through quality teacher development, student support programs and a systemic commitment to providing an excellent education,” Alvin L. Crawley, interim superintendent of schools for PGCPS, said in an email to The Gazette.
Worcester County Public Schools ranked highest in elementary and middle school math and reading scores. The full list of test scores can be found online at www.mdreportcard.org.