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MSA Test Results: Maryland Schools Decline Slightly In Reading & Math

BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP)—The Maryland School Assessments are in, and the state schools superintendent says there is progress to be made.

MSA scores for elementary and middle school students have dropped this year as the state transitions to new national learning standards, according to data released Tuesday by the Maryland State Department of Education.

The percentage of elementary students scoring at the proficient levels in reading fell from 88.2 percent in 2012 to 86.4 percent this year. The percentage of elementary students scoring in the proficient levels in mathematics dropped from 87.7 percent to 83.9 percent.  While the percentage of middle school students scoring at proficient levels in reading improved from 82.1 percent last year to 83.4 percent this year, their scores in mathematics in the proficient range dropped from 76.2 to 72.2 percent.

Baltimore City schools' latest MSA scores closely mirror Maryland's 2013 statewide results. Like the district, the state saw a dip in math in both elementary and middle grades, and like the district, it saw a decline in elementary reading scores and gains in the middle grades.

"We are in a transition period, both in Maryland and throughout the nation," said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery. "Maryland schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics, but new assessments aligned to the curriculum will not be ready for use until the 2014-15 school year.á This misalignment will certainly affect our scores this year and next."

Maryland is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted national benchmarks known as the Common Core State Standards, which were developed by states.

The department says the results are a direct result of the changes that have been taking place in Maryland public school classrooms, as well as others across the country.

Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said the test results show a deep misalignment between what students are taught and how they are tested, a problem that will continue for at least the next school year.

"This disconnect underscores the need to make sure that there are no high stakes attached to student test scores in teacher evaluations until the tests are valid, tested and fully aligned with the curriculum taught," Weller said.

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance agrees.

"The Common Core State Standards are not aligned to MSA tests; therefore, the taught curriculum was not the tested curriculum and this led to a decrease in student test scores but not necessarily a decrease in a students' understanding of the material," he said.

Baltimore County schools also saw declines in elementary reading and mathematics. But its middle school reading performance improved.

Middle school reading performance in Baltimore County rose in all racial/ethnic subgroups with Hispanic students demonstrating the largest increase of 1.6 percentage points. Notably, middle school English language learners showed an increase of 13.1 percentage points in reading proficiency and an increase of 1 percentage point in math.

"We take any drop in student achievement in test scores seriously," Dr. Dance said.

Maryland began implementing the Common Core standards last school year. The transition will be complete in the 2013-2014 school year. Maryland schools also will be field testing the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments this coming year that are aligned to the Common Core. The new tests are being developed to measure critical content skills embedded in the new standards, the department said. Maryland and 21 other states have been working on them for the past four years.

The Maryland School Assessment is a mandatory assessment of reading and mathematics achievement that is administered each spring to students in grades 3 through 8.

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