Worcester Test Scores Among State’s Highest

NEWARK — Once again, Worcester County is at the top of its class.

Results for the 2011 Maryland State Assessment (MSA) for grades 3-8 were released this week and confirm that Worcester students are almost at a combined 100 percent proficiency on the test. The MSA is broken into two categories — reading and math.

In the reading category, Worcester achieved first, second or third place in five of the six grades tested. They repeated the performance in the math category as well. Of the 12 criteria looked at when determining the rank of a school in the state, Worcester was rated first in seven of them, second in one and third in two.

Overall, county officials are predicting that Worcester will once again be one of the highest ranked, if not the highest ranked, system in Maryland.

“In all likelihood, our test results are at the top of the state,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes during an informal news conference on Wednesday.

This year, as part of the “No Child Left Behind Program,” Maryland set a benchmark requiring that at least 90 percent of students for any particular school or school system achieve a “proficient” or “advanced” rating on the MSA in both reading and math. That percentage will continually increase until peaking at 100 percent in 2014. Worcester County averaged out at 94 percent this year, up three percent from 2010.

Since Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) first began being measured in 2003, Worcester County schools have made dramatic leaps in student proficiency.

For example, eighth grade math scores have risen from 57.4 percent in 2003 to 91.2 percent this year. Similarly, eighth grade reading scores have increased from 66.8 percent to 95.3 percent, a climb of 28.5, in the same period of time.

“Our continually rising student scores are cause for celebration,” said Andes. “In fact, they reflect more than just high levels of proficiency. They reflect the unwavering commitment that our teachers and staff have toward student achievement, toward keeping our schools great.”

Beyond measuring the progress of schools and school systems as a whole, the MSA also looks at how well student subgroups performed.

Because of the intense standards, not every subgroup managed to hit the 90 percent mark this year. Of the three major subgroups, African-American, Special Education, and Free and Reduced Meal (FARM) students, all were able to clear 80 percent in both reading and math. Only FARMS students were able to hit 90 percent in both categories once decimals were rounded off.

However, both the African-American and Special Education subgroup saw large increases this year. Special Education especially saw dramatic jumps in student proficiency. Though only hitting 81 percent in reading and 80 percent in math, students saw 8.1 percent and 9.5 percent gains from last year, respectively.

The gains fall under the State’s AYP, and therefore count as hitting the benchmark.

“We technically made the standard,” said Andes.

But he added that Worcester won’t be satisfied until subgroup scores are brought into line with the majority of students.

“One of our challenges is closing the gap,” he remarked.

In a state press release issued along with the MSA scores, State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick pointed out that many schools in Maryland were going beyond the “proficient” rating and having many students score “advanced.”

Andes confirmed that Worcester is one of those schools.

While proficiency levels are encroaching on the 100 percent rate, Andes explained that the number of students scoring “advanced” was also climbing. Advanced reading scores for Worcester hit 54.1 percent this year, up 3.5 points from 2010. Advanced math reached 56.1 percent, rising 9.4 points since last year.

When asked what has been responsible for the steady rise in scores over the last decade, Andes felt that a combination of factors were all working together. He said that small class sizes coupled with an emphasis on afterschool and summer educational programs helped engage students throughout the year and allowed more focus and attention to be applied by schools. Andes was also eager to acknowledge the hard work of teaches and staff.

“When children are successful, schools are successful; and when schools are successful, communities are successful. Our teachers, students, and staff are phenomenal,” he said.

“Our teachers have always focused on each and every student,” agreed Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis.

But even with all of the good news, Andes again reiterated that there is room for improvement. Fifth grade math scores, despite rising 4.6 percent this year, still fell short of the benchmark by two tenths of a percent.

Even with fifth grade math the weakest score on this year’s MSA, it still managed to be ninth best in Maryland. Since there are 24 systems total, that’s far from the bottom. Despite his high standards, Andes stressed how proud he was with all of the students in Worcester this year.

“In all areas, we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.