How did Baltimore's test scores get so high?
That's the question that everyone in the city should be asking today as the state releases this year's Maryland School Assessment results. As I report in my story today, Baltimore made gains -- often double-digit ones -- in every grade and subject.
The city has been showing steady improvement in the elementary grades for awhile now, but this year, the progress is in middle school as well. Reading scores jumped 16 percentage points in fifth grade, 12 percentage points in sixth grade and 18 percentage points in seventh grade. And special education, Title 1 and limited English proficient students all made faster progress than the system as a whole.
So what's the cause of this? Some might say it's because Baltimore has been keeping many more of its sixth- through eighth-graders in elementary schools, which are converting to K-8s. But while it's true that the K-8s score higher than standalone middle schools, both types of schools improved this year.
Statewide, Nancy Grasmick attributed the closing of the achievement gap to the state's heavy emphasis on early childhood education, meaning poor and minority kids are arriving in school more prepared. While that's true, too, the city's middle school students weren't the beneficiaries of the early childhood programs offered today.
It does seem plausible that the city's elementary school reforms are starting to take hold at the middle school level.
But is it too soon to credit the Alonso administration? Most people in the education world believe that reform takes three to five years to take hold and translate into improved test scores. Alonso says the system was already on a path of improvement before his arrival, but the improvement accelerated this year.
I suppose time will tell, when we see if the system can replicate the progress. A few years with jumps like this and the Baltimore schools won't be the state's poor stepchild any longer.
For some interesting tidbits on the large increase in the number of city students scoring advanced on the tests, keep reading.
On the reading MSAs, the city had 1,328 fewer test takers than in 2007 because of declining enrollment; 4,356 fewer students failed the tests; 652 more students scored proficient; and 2,376 more scored advanced.
In math, 1,348 fewer students took the tests; 3,274 fewer students failed; 255 more scored proficient; and 1,671 more scored advanced.