New Howard County schools Superintendent Renee Foose lauded the system's results on the Maryland School Assessment tests but said she's concerned about the focus that is placed on proficiency exams in general.

"I'm concerned that all of our energy goes into this [test scores] release, and I want that same energy to go into more education of the whole child. That's my personal concern," said Foose, who took over as county superintendent this month, replacing Sydney Cousin.

The former Baltimore County deputy superintendent inherited one of the state's best-performing school systems, as evidenced in rankings of the Baltimore-area schools with the highest percentages of students who passed the MSA.

Clarksville Elementary posted a 98.6 percent passing mark, tops for Howard schools and 12th among all Baltimore-area schools, according to an analysis of Maryland State Department of Education data by The Baltimore Sun. St. John's Lane Elementary in Ellicott City (98.6 percent) is second in Howard and 13th overall.

Elementary schools took the top 27 spots among Baltimore-area schools with the highest percentages of students who passed the MSA. But Howard middle schools, which saw drops in reading percentages at a time when the school board voted to eliminate reading as a stand-alone subject, fared better overall than many local and state middle schools.

Folly Quarter Middle (98.0 percent) and Mount View Middle (97.9 percent) posted the highest marks among middle schools in the county and in the Baltimore area as a whole. Clarksville Middle School's 97.5 percent pass rate was fifth among local middle schools.

Howard County Education Association President Paul Lemle said that it is too early to tell what effect the decision to eliminate reading as a standalone subject will have on test scores. But he added, "I thought it was a mistake when they did it, and I'm willing to bet that I'll think it's a mistake next year when we start looking at data for students whose time spent in a class-related [environment] reading and writing was drastically reduced."

Howard County seventh-graders' 90 percent pass mark in math is third in the state behind Worcester County's 95.1 percent and Caroline County's 91.6 percent. Overall, each of Howard County's middle school grades improved passing marks in the math portion of the MSA by at least 1 percentage point.

"I'm very proud of the gains we've seen in math since the baseline year of 2003," Foose said. "I'm equally proud of the reading performance, but more specifically the gains we've seen in the mathematics for our students is impressive, and it is a testimony of how well teachers are preparing our students."

Overall, the percentage of Howard middle school students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" in reading was 90.9 percent, down from 92.7 the previous year. The percentage of Howard students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" in mathematics was 89.1 percent, up from 87.3 percent the previous year.

Said Howard school board member Frank Aquino, "I'm pleased to see that our students are still doing well and continue to improve generally. I'm glad the tests still show where we need to make improvements. The board will be considering those along with other information we get from Dr. Foose at the appropriate time."

Many local districts saw percentage drops in middle school reading from the previous year. In Howard County, decreases ranged from half a percentage point in sixth grade to 2.4 percentage points in eighth grade.

But Foose said that much of a drop likely does not speak to a teaching and learning issue.

"When you see something like a reading dip throughout the state, it speaks more of a function to maybe some test questions, maybe the format," Foose said.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

Middle school results

The following middle schools in the Baltimore area had the highest percentage of students who passed. To see more rankings, go to baltimoresun.com.

Folly Quarter (Howard): 98.0%

Mount View (Howard): 97.9%

Severna Park (Anne Arundel): 97.9%

Chesapeake Science Point (Anne Arundel): 97.5%

Clarksville (Howard): 97.5%

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