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Local: Education

Maryland releases new rating system for schools

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Montgomery County students met new performance goals introduced by the state on Monday, which go beyond No Child Left Behind's focus on test scores to measure student growth, graduation rates and progress toward closing the achievement gap for minority students.

But even though Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr said the School Progress Index is an improvement, he said he was still disappointed that scores on the Maryland School Assessments factored heavily into the rating and labeling of schools.

"I appreciate what the Maryland State Department of Education is attempting to do; however, what's not clear to me is the purpose of this approach to accountability," said Starr, who recently called for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, 100 percent of students were expected to pass their reading and math exams by 2014 -- an unrealistic edict overturned when the Obama administration allowed states to apply for waivers to design their own accountability systems. Maryland now aims to cut the number of students who fall below proficiency in half by 2017, providing unique goals for each of the state's 1,406 schools.

However, state education officials said Monday that schools' ratings would go beyond how many students passed the MSAs. Among elementary and middle schools, 40 percent of a school's standing will be determined by its progress toward closing the achievement gap between racial subgroups; typically, white and Asian students have outperformed their African-American and Hispanic peers on state and national standardized tests. Test scores will still take up 30 percent of the pie, while the other 30 percent will be determined by students' year-to-year growth on the exams.

At the high school level, the achievement gap and proficiency rates were both factored in at 40 percent, with 20 percent earmarked for college and career readiness measures, such as graduation rates.

"This is realistic and achievable -- these are goals that each school really understands," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "It won't surprise too many school leaders when they look at their data, because they know what needs to get done at their school, or at least they think so."

Schools are separated into five "strands" based on how many of their goals are met. Sixty-four percent of Montgomery County's schools are in the first two strands, requiring little to no monitoring and support. Only eight of the 200 schools measured in Montgomery fell in strand five, which require intensive support.

While state officials emphasized that the labels were meant to be informative, not punitive, Starr questioned the effectiveness of labeling schools based on test data.

"The data, itself, is instructive and reinforces the need to re-energize our efforts to narrow achievement gaps across the district," he said. "I'm just concerned about how the data is being used."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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