More Schools Lag On Standards

Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun, August 16, 2007

The number of Maryland elementary and middle schools on the state’s list of poor performers grew slightly last year—in part, officials said, because the standards are getting tougher every year.

Statewide, 176 schools are on the list—including more than 60 in Baltimore City and, for the first time, two in Howard County. A school gets the “needs improvement” label for failing to meet federal standards two years in a row.

Nine more schools made the list this time, or 16 percent of schools overall. Maryland State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick played down the increase, saying it masks the fact that a larger number of children are passing reading and math tests required by federal law.

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The number of Anne Arundel County schools on the list stayed about the same, but four more Baltimore County schools were added to the six already failing. Five Baltimore City schools improved enough to get off the list, but seven more were added.

The annual list is based on how students score on the Maryland School Assessments, reading and math tests given in third through eighth grade.

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In Maryland, 66 percent of students had to pass the tests last school year for a school to meet standards; next year, the goal will rise to 71 percent.

But the complicated rating formula considers more than a school’s performance as a whole. A percentage of certain groups of students in a school—African-American, low-income and special-education students—also must pass for the school to meet what the federal government calls “adequate yearly progress.”

So a school such as Brooklyn Park Middle School in Anne Arundel County can miss meeting the federal standard because a small number of its African-American and special-education students did not pass the reading test.

In Howard County, Murray Hill Middle and Oakland Mills Middle were added to the state list. At Oakland Mill, more than 85 percent of Asian-American and white students passed the tests, but only 55 percent of African-American students passed, too few to meet the standard.

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Baltimore County now has nine of its 28 middle schools labeled as underperforming. Parents of children in six of those schools—those with a relatively high percentage of low-income students—have the right to transfer their children to better schools in the county. And dozens are doing so, with students now being bused from some west-side county middle schools to high performing schools in the northern part of the county.

The school district is now focused on trying to improve instruction for special-education students, a group that has a higher failure rate than many others. Baltimore County has focused on making sure that the letter of the law is followed for those special-education students, said spokeswoman Kara Calder.

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In Baltimore, 54 percent of the city’s elementary schools met the standards, but nearly all of the city’s traditional middle schools fell short. Less than half of the city’s combined K-8 schools met the benchmark.

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