College Park, Md. — The results for the 2023 Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) tests for grades 3 to 8 show that student proficiency in English Language Arts has surpassed the level it was at before the pandemic. Math scores have improved, but have yet to fully rebound from the pandemic, while science scores have declined, according to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).
MCAP tests are administered annually in public schools to assist educators in understanding student progression so that they can better tailor their methods of instruction, according to MSDE.
Students in grades three to eight take tests in English and math, while students in grades five and eight are given an additional science test.
English proficiency surpasses 2019
According to data from MSDE, average English proficiency dropped from 44% in 2019 to 31% in 2021.
Proficiency increased significantly in 2022 and by a smaller degree in 2023, with results showing an average passing rate of 47%, according to MSDE.
Improvements can be seen across Maryland, as every county except Somerset had an increase in English proficiency between 2022 and 2023. Somerset County had a slight 0.3 % decrease in scores. Baltimore City had the most improvement with 22%.
Math proficiency still below pre-pandemic levels
The 24% average passing rate for math in 2023 is still lower than the 31% in 2019, indicating that math scores have still not fully recovered from pandemic learning loss.
Despite average passing rates in math still not being as high as in 2019, they have gone up since dropping to 15% in 2021. Proficiency increased by 6 percentage points from 2021 to 2022 and 3 percentage points from 2022 to 2023.
Not every county had an improvement, as there are four counties that saw a decline in average math proficiency from 2022 to 2023: Baltimore, Kent, Somerset and Talbot. Baltimore County had a significant 15% drop in math proficiency from 2022.
Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education Member at Large Tiara Booker-Dwyer said that an explanation for the slower improvement in math scores is that the format of math questions in these tests have become more layered, which makes it difficult for parents, teachers and administrators trained in the traditional format to help students get accustomed.
“Not only do you have to have that English language proficiency to understand ‘what is this question asking,’ then you also have to have that mathematic skill set to do the problem,” Booker-Dwyer said. “That’s going to take a little bit longer for students to truly master, it’s going to take a little bit longer for teachers to truly master how to facilitate instruction on it.”
Historically underserved students lag behind
Despite making improvements over the last two years, average scores for historically underserved students in English and math still lag behind. The most recent scores of Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students are still below those of white and Asian students.
Booker-Dwyer said that it is important to build the cultural competency of educators so that they can connect better with students.
“When you look at the curriculum that was developed, it speaks to a certain demographic. There are certain people who just ‘I’m not going to connect with this,’ so it’s going to go in one ear and out the other. Or when they try to connect to it, people recognize that it’s inauthentic,” Booker-Dwyer said.
Booker-Dwyer states that another solution is encouraging more historically underserved students to take honors and AP classes, as well as providing resources to schools to give them these opportunities.
“What the research shows is that if you’re placed in an advanced academic class or gifted class, even if you’re earning C’s in there, you’re better off long term than if you’re just in the standard class,” Booker-Dwyer said.
“Sometimes it’s just exposure to certain things, just being in a classroom, around students who are performing at a certain level will kind of unintentionally make you perform at a higher level,” she said.
Grade 8 science proficiency hits five-year low
Science scores continue to lag, especially for grade 8.
In grade 5, science proficiency in the last five years peaked in 2021 at 41%, a 12-percentage point increase from 2019. In 2022, the passing rate dropped to 31% before rising again to 35% in 2023, according to MSDE.
Grade 8 scores have been on a steady decline since 2021, with the passing rate dropping from 35% in 2022 to 26% in 2023, the lowest it’s been in the last five years.
With the exception of Dorchester, every county had at least a 10% decline in grade 8 science proficiency from 2022 to 2023. Six counties had over a 30% decrease from 2022: Kent, Charles, Prince George’s, Washington, Allegany and Queen Anne’s.
MSDE states that this decline is likely due to the grade 8 students being in grade 6 during the 2020-2021 school year, which was predominantly online. As a result, students missed key science instruction during their first year of middle school.
“The results on the grade 8 assessment make clear the impact of grade 6 and 7 disruptions on a cumulative grade 8 assessment,” MSDE said in the press release.
Booker-Dwyer stated that rollout for the new Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 education, which has lessons in engineering, technology, earth and space sciences in addition to traditional sciences, was delayed by the pandemic. She remains optimistic that scores will improve as curriculum continues to change.
“I do believe it will get better as people are getting more and more comfortable with the science standards and more teachers are getting trained and the resources are getting better, as far as the instructional material,” Booker-Dwyer said. “But initially it was tough.”
Booker-Dwyer discusses the need for a “systems approach” to address learning-loss in the school system, as learning is sequential. Students who aren’t prepared with the foundations necessary for the new grade-level won’t be able to pick up the curriculum as easily.
“We have to look at this holistically. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing this issue with our school systems,” Booker-Dwyer said. “This is where I think the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future has some potential because it can give school systems some flexibility to get a little bit more innovative in how they’re approaching the learning.”
“But the thing about it is you can only be as innovative as the state allows. And so until there’s some major changes at the state level, we won’t see those innovative schooling approaches happen at the school level,” she said.
The 2024 MCAP tests are set to begin in the spring.