Worcester Tops State In Latest Performance Data; Local Officials ‘Perplexed’ Over Low Math Scores

Worcester Tops State In Latest Performance Data; Local Officials ‘Perplexed’ Over Low Math Scores
In Worcester County, student performance on the spring ELA assessments in grades 3-8 topped all other school systems in Maryland with 68 percent of students scoring as proficient or higher. Submitted image.

NEWARK– Worcester County’s schools continue to outperform most of those in the state, according to the latest testing data released.

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) last week released statewide performance data that shows Worcester County Public Schools again ranks at the top when it comes to testing.

“Overall we’re thrilled with the results,” said Dee Shorts, the school system’s chief academic officer for Pre-K through eighth grade.

According to MSDE, statewide, student proficiency rates in English language arts (ELA) are at the highest they’ve been in a decade.  In Worcester County, student performance on the spring ELA assessments in grades 3-8 topped all other school systems in Maryland with 68% of students scoring as proficient or higher.

At the high school level, 73% of Worcester County students taking the English 10 assessment scored proficient, topping the state average by 19 percentage points, and landing second overall in the state behind Calvert County, which had an 82% proficiency rate.

“Our ELA scores were amazing,” Shorts said. “We’ve been telling stakeholders fortunately in Worcester County we did not see the COVID slide some districts are experiencing.”

Superintendent Lou Taylor praised the hard work of teachers and students and highlighted the fact the school system’s scores showed improvement over last year.

“While it is validating that our scores are consistently leading the state, I believe what is most important with these scores is the growth we are seeing from year to year. Our collective efforts are making an impact, and I hope our community is proud to see this positive progress for our students,” he said in a statement.

Proficiency levels on math assessments were significantly lower statewide, with 25% of students scoring proficient. Worcester County Public Schools, however, exceeded the state average in grades 2-8 mathematics by 23 percentage points. Worcester’s proficiency rate of 47% is a nearly 10 percentage point gain over last year and is more than double next highest growth seen in the state. All grade levels in Worcester County experienced growth from last year’s proficiency levels.

On the Algebra I assessment, Worcester ranked second in the state with a 27% proficiency rate.

“Although we’re pleased with our math results—we’re number one in the state in grades 3-8 and number two in the state in Algebra I—they’re not matching our internal diagnostics,” Shorts said.

She said the internal diagnostic testing program used for kindergarten through eighth grade, iReady, didn’t show math scores dropping. Students are tested with iReady three times a year.

“We’re a little perplexed as to why scores on the math assessments are coming back so low,” she said.

Similar trends are being noticed at the high school level. While Algebra I assessment proficiency is only at 27%, Annette Wallace, chief safety and academic officer for grades 9-12, said the school system’s AP math, SAT math and dual enrollment math performance had not decreased.

“We’re not seeing an dips in success there,” she said.

She said superintendents throughout the state are voicing similar observations.

“There is significant concern across the state that the assessment is not showing what our kids know,” Wallace said, adding that this was only the second year of this assessment program.

Shorts agreed.

“We’re not blaming the assessment but something doesn’t seem right,” she said.

In recent months, attendees at board of education meetings have pointed out that just because Worcester typically tops the state on assessment scores that doesn’t mean its performance holds up nationwide.

“It’s good to be number one or number two in the state but is our state’s education even good? Or are we the best apple in a barrel of rotten apples?” Wallace said.

She said that while there are multiple ranking systems, Maryland typically landed between number two and number five in the nation, depending on the list.

“It’s a top five state in the nation,” Wallace said. “The rhetoric that’s out there comes with little research behind it.”

According to Wallace, most of that rhetoric is coming from community members, not parents of children in Worcester County’s public schools.

“I think as a district we need to look at how we’re communicating with our community stakeholders,” she said.

Shorts echoed that and said she also wanted to point out that assessments monitored proficiency.

“These assessments are not like classroom assessments where it’s graded on an A-B-C-D scale,” she said. “There are not students getting 100 on these assessments.”

She added that if student proficiency was a cause for concern, she’d be hearing from teachers.

“The last thing we would do would be celebrating if our kids were struggling,” Wallace agreed. “We have a plethora of other data points that say the assessment needs to be looked at.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.