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NCLB Outrages

A Medley of Articles on Maryland School Performance

Comments from Annie: As reports are filtering in from states releasing the predictable news on their schools’ inability to meet NCLB goals, it is no surprise that each state depends thoroughly on its own flavor of political hype to support each distinct and politicized goal and their “progress.”

Here is a medley of articles from three Maryland area newspapers. It is easy to see the customized spin on the same information.

Since it appears that the choices are limited for how the results are “interpreted.” I suggest that, in the name of “standardization,” we universally adopt one consistent protocol and get it over with....

1. Raise the stakes higher and systematically fail the schools, the teachers, the students equitably.

2. Lower the stakes so that no one can “fail” and shower the papers with glowing reports about “progress and proficiency. “

3. Isolate “target groups” and offer them as scapegoats to divert attention away from the faulty foundations of political control and NCLB policy. Rename the middle and upper socio-economic classes “proficient.”

4. Use the conflicting and inconsistent “results” to support a return to a politically uncontaminated system of public schools where learning and child development are supported with informed and appropriate pedagogic practices.

The following verses can be sung as a round.

First Verse:

More Schools In Md. Fail To Meet Goals

By Lori Aratani and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 17, 2006; A01

A majority of middle schools in the highly regarded Montgomery County system failed to meet performance targets in the past academic year, falling short of benchmarks for special education students and others who come from poor or immigrant families, Maryland officials reported yesterday.

The trends in Montgomery and elsewhere in the state intensified concerns about stagnant test scores in many middle schools, particularly in reading. They also underscored the rising challenge that schools nationwide face in complying with the No Child Left Behind law.

In Prince George's County, for example, 13 schools have failed to meet academic standards for so many years that they must be restructured or have plans to do so.

Prince George's and the City of Baltimore each have far more schools rated in need of improvement than any other Maryland system. Together, they account for more than three-quarters of the 167 elementary and middle schools on Maryland's needs-improvement list.

The 2002 federal law requires schools to show "adequate yearly progress" toward the twin goals of closing achievement gaps and getting nearly all students tested to reach grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics. Those who fail to make "AYP" for two years or longer can face consequences including a state-ordered overhaul.

Experts who track the law say states across the country are reporting growing numbers of schools that have missed targets. Virginia and the District expect to report their No Child Left Behind school ratings in the next few weeks. Maryland's high school test scores are due out Monday.

Yesterday, the Maryland State Department of Education reported that 241 elementary and middle schools fell short of academic targets in 2005-06, based on standardized test scores for grades 3 through 8 and student attendance data. That represented an increase of more than 20 percent over the previous annual total of 196.

State officials chose to accent the positive: Four of five elementary and middle schools met standards.

"These gratifying results tell us that students and teachers from across Maryland have been paying attention to improving performance across the board," State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a prepared statement. She said that many elementary schools are making "dramatic progress."

However, state officials express growing concern about middle schools. "Kids get to middle school, and they're not getting everything they need," said Gary Heath, an assistant state superintendent.

In Montgomery, 21 of 38 middle schools missed the targets, according to the new state data. Thirteen Montgomery elementary schools also fell short. In the previous school year, data show, 12 of the county's elementary and middle schools fell short.

Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said that the new state ratings underscored "the level of improvement still needed" in the county's middle schools.

The 139,000-student system is perennially a high performer among large school systems nationwide, based on measures such as graduation rates, SAT scores and Advanced Placement tests. It also serves a population of highly educated, highly motivated and often wealthy families, all of which can be significant factors in student achievement.

But for all of its educational advantages, Montgomery also faces challenges typical for major school systems. It has a sizable population of students who come from low-income homes, including many from Latino immigrant families with limited English skills. Such students tend to score lower on standardized tests than others. So do disabled students who receive special education services.

In Prince George's, which has a higher population of disadvantaged students, 72 elementary and middle schools failed to meet state targets. That was down slightly from the previous year's total of 77, according to state data.

But challenges are mounting in Prince George's even though test scores have risen in recent years. More than 60 of its elementary and middle schools are rated in need of improvement. New schools chief John E. Deasy, who took over the 133,000-student system last spring, is preparing plans to intervene in dozens of chronically low-performing schools. He said yesterday that the initiative, expected to go to the school board for approval as soon as next week, would be "dramatic and intensive."

The performance of the Baltimore school system has become an issue in the gubernatorial campaign. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Democratic challenger Martin O'Malley, the Baltimore mayor, have sparred over the record of city schools. O'Malley says they are improving; Ehrlich says progress is too slow. Data released yesterday show that more than 80 Baltimore schools failed to meet performance targets and more than 60 are rated in need of improvement, and most have been on the list for several years.

Among Washington area elementary and middle schools, eight Anne Arundel County schools failed to meet targets, according to the state data. So did three in Howard County, five in Frederick County and three in St. Mary's County, data showed. Every school in Charles and Calvert counties met the standards.

The state also reported that five Anne Arundel schools are on its needs-improvement list for elementary and middle schools, with three from St. Mary's and one from Frederick. Montgomery has a dozen schools on the list.

Many of the trouble spots in Montgomery's ratings stem from special-education test scores. Critics dispute the school system's contention that it is addressing that issue.
But the primary concern emerging from the new data is middle school achievement.

Last spring, the system began an effort to revamp those schools after an audit found inconsistencies in the way students were taught. School system spokesman Brian Edwards said educators have expanded summer programs for struggling middle school students and added in-school and after-school programs to reach those needing extra help. A report on strategies for improving middle schools is due in the fall.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Second Verse:

Elementary schools do well on state tests
But 5 of 19 county middle schools fall below goals for No Child Left Behind

By RYAN BAGWELL, Staff Writer
The Annapolis Capital

Nearly every county elementary school met state standards in the last school year, continuing strides toward meeting the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But five of the county's 19 middle schools remain on a state watch list, leading officials to continue worrying about the lagging performance of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

"I think that the results could be better in middle school," said Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, who started last month. "But all in all, I'm satisfied that we're not falling behind."

Seventy-five of the county's 77 elementary schools met the annual improvement requirements based on Maryland State Assessment Exams given to students in the spring, state officials announced yesterday.

Southgate Elementary missed targets in special education, and The Knowledge is Power Program Harbor Academy in Edgewater - one of the county's two charter schools - missed standards for students in poverty.

That number was down slightly from last year, when every elementary school met state standards.

In the middle grades, Corkran, Chesapeake Bay, Bates, Lindale, Annapolis and Marley middle schools missed state targets, the same number that missed them last year.

Bates joined Brooklyn Park, Lindale, Marley, and Annapolis Middle Schools on a state watch list for targeted improvement. Schools must meet state standards two years in a row to get off the list.

"I'm sure, given the quality of that system and the leadership, that in fact there will be extraordinary attention to those five schools," state Superintendnet Nancy S. Grasmick said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

Adequate Yearly Progress is a measure of schools' movement toward meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Each must meet certain proficiency rates on the annual state exams, or enter a multi-year process that could end with a state takeover.

Certain groups of students must also meet the targets, including groups according to race, poverty and limited fluency in English. If schools miss those targets two years in a row, they're put on a state watch list.

The targets rise gradually each year. No Child Left Behind says all students must be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Schools on the state watch list get $10,000 for improvement programs, plus a per-pupil allotment.

Brooklyn Park Middle, which missed targets last year, met state standards in every category this year. If the school meets targets next year, it will come off the state's watch list.

"We were very proactive, I think, in monitoring closely how well our kids were performing," said Raymond Bibeault, Brooklyn Park's principal. "We put a lot of supports in for those kids that were struggling."

Annapolis Middle principal Carolyn Burton-Page was surprised that her school missed standards in three areas. She couldn't explain the shortcomings, especially after her school met targets in 2005.

"The one thing that I do know is, with this year, we're just going to have to give a better effort in identifying those kids," said Ms. Page, who promised more reading and math help for kids who need it in the coming school year.

Two schools - Waugh Chapel and Meade Middle School - came off the state watch list after meeting every target two years in a row.

Across the state, the number of schools that didn't meet the annual standards grew. State education officials said 241 schools missed the mark, up from 196 last year.

About half were in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

About 15 percent of Maryland elementary and middle schools found themselves on the state watch list this year's year. That number represented 167 schools, up from 162 last year.

Schools on the list for targeted improvement, which included Anne Arundel's five struggling middle schools, are causing concern, state officials said.

"Once you get into the school improvement continuum ... that's a clear, strong indication there's problems at that school," said Gary Heath, the state's assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability.

Though Mr. Bibeault's teachers were ecstatic about meeting the standards this year, it's not the label that's important, he said.

"It really isn't about AYP," Mr. Bibeault said. "It really is about the difference you make in kids. And making AYP is just kind of icing on the top."

"But it's good icing," he said.


Third Verse:
More Md. schools fail new standards
One-third of middle schools face scrutiny


As federal education standards grow more stringent, more Maryland schools are failing to make the grade -- 241 last school year, up from 196 the year before, according to Maryland State Department of Education statistics released Wednesday.

Most of the schools added to the list of those not making "adequate yearly progress" are in Baltimore City, and Prince George's and Montgomery counties, with a few from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

While state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick expressed some concern about the increase, she said she believes that many of the schools may improve next year.

Of greater concern, she said, are the 167 schools that have not met standards for two or more years and now face new state scrutiny. They include 77 middle schools -- one-third of the middle schools in Maryland, some of which have performed poorly for years, mirroring a national trend.

"We have got to address the middle schools," said Gary Heath, head of testing for the state.
Last month, the state board of education, at Grasmick's suggestion, formed a task force to come up with recommendations for improving middle schools. One improvement, she said, would be to create a separate certification for middle school teachers and require teachers to have a deeper knowledge in their subject.

"There are going to be big changes in the middle schools," Grasmick said.

While there was a sharp increase in schools not making adequate progress, the number of schools that have been on the list long enough to warrant state action stayed relatively constant.

In the state's two most troubled systems, that number stayed about the same -- 63 in Prince George's County and 64 in Baltimore -- although some schools came off the list and others went on.

Schools are listed as not making adequate progress based on the percentage of students who fail a statewide test, the Maryland School Assessment. The federal law aims to have 100 percent of students passing state tests by 2013. So every year the state and federal governments expect more students to pass.

That is one reason more schools are being labeled as not making enough progress. The test is not getting harder, and more students aren't necessarily failing it. In fact, Baltimore school officials noted that many of the city schools that are on the list had more students passing the test this year.

The longer a school stays on the list, the more severe the state's actions can become to improve the school. After two years, a parent whose child is in a high-poverty school can ask for free tutoring for the child. After three years, parents can have their children transferred to a better school.

Parents of children in those schools will soon get letters in the mail from their school systems asking whether they wish to take advantage of those options.

Under federal law, the state can force a school to throw out its teaching staff, replace a principal or make adjustments to curriculum or teaching practices if the school doesn't make enough progress.

The tougher standards this year brought some surprises from perennially good performers. More Montgomery schools were added to the list than usual when special education students and limited English speakers in a number of schools failed the state tests.

Three out of 56 schools in Howard County did not meet federal standards, though all of the county's schools did a year earlier. The three schools -- Murray Hill Middle School, Oakland Mills Middle School, and Cradlerock School -- were put on the list despite an appeal to the state by the school system.

While Grasmick noted that the seven Baltimore middle schools that she had wanted to take over have shown no improvement, six other perennially failing city schools improved enough to be taken off the state's watch lists.
Gilmor Elementary, one of the schools taken over by the state several years ago and given to Edison Schools Inc. to run, was put in the worst category of failing schools Wednesday. That category requires a major restructuring of its staff and leadership.

Of the six Baltimore County middle schools the state has been watching, Arbutus and Woodlawn middle schools met state goals this year. If enough children pass the state test next year, the two schools will be removed from the list. Baltimore County school officials did not respond to a request for comment.

In Harford County, Edgewood Middle missed targets for special education students for the second consecutive year, and so it will move into a category that requires more radical changes.

Overall, fears statewide that many schools would be considered failing only because their special education students didn't pass the state test did not materialize. But about 93 schools would have been added to the list of 241 without exemptions for special education students granted by the state.

The list of schools not making adequate progress in Anne Arundel County consists of two elementaries -- one is a first-year charter school -- and six middle schools, three of which haven't met state standards for three years in a row.

Anne Arundel school officials acknowledge that the middle schools are an area of concern and say they are looking for ways to improve their results. "With middle school, it has a lot to do with the age" of the pupils, said Beverly Pish, executive director of accountability, testing and research for the school system.

She said the system will look at the success of other middle schools and at progress at Meade Middle School, which was removed from a state watch list this year, to see what teaching methods could be transferred.

Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said he was not "overly alarmed" by the results but said in a statement that he would try to offer more resources and training to teachers and middle school pupils.

The state also released data on the percentage of teachers in each jurisdiction and the state as a whole that are considered "highly qualified." About 80 percent of the state's teachers have the designation, up from 67 percent last year.

About 47 percent of the city's teachers are highly qualified.

Sun reporters Liz F. Kay, Anica Butler and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.


— Articles from The Washington Post, The Annapolis Capital ,and The Baltimore



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