A complicated formula derived for the state’s school accountability requirements has the district and members of the Board of Education unsure of where Frederick County schools will fall.

Earlier this year, Maryland’s plan to adhere to the Every Student Succeeds Act received approval from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The plan calls for every school to receive a star rating, which is based on a percentile rank, which is based on a composite score, which is based on a number of points received in different categories of school accountability.

“From the beginning, the message has been, we want to have meaningful data for parents,” Superintendent Terry Alban said of the ESSA plan. “We’re going to have to explain every score that went into the composite score. Most people aren’t going to go past, ‘Am I in a four-star school or a five-star school?’

“This is way too complicated.”

Because of the complexity of the plan, and the fact that it compares schools across the state, the district can’t begin to guess what will happen.

“We have no way to guess where our schools will fall in the percentile rank because it’s all based on comparisons to schools across the state,” said Jamie Aliveto, system accountability and school improvement director for FCPS. “We would have to have every school’s data to model that and see where we fall.”

One positive for the district is that it will likely not have any one-star schools. The one-star designation is reserved for Title I schools that are in the lowest-performing 5 percent in the state, or fail to graduate one-third or more of its students, or has any one low-performing student group not improve for three years.

Title I schools in FCPS historically perform in the top 50 percentile, and no school has a graduation rate that low, Aliveto said.

One-star schools will be designated as “comprehensive support and improvement schools,” and will receive support from the state that includes a school needs assessment, and root cause analysis. All of the supports the state includes in its plan are already done at every school each year, Aliveto said.

Where county schools will fall between two and five stars is unknown. Schools that fall in the 85th percentile will receive a five-star rating. Schools scoring between the 50th and 84th percentiles get four stars, while three-star schools fall between the 16th and 49th percentiles.

Schools from the 1st to the 15th percentile will receive two stars.

School board member April Miller questioned the effectiveness of using percentiles to determine star ratings, because percentiles compare schools with other schools. This could lead a school to receive a lower star rating even if it’s meeting its goals.

The school’s composite score, which determines its percentile rank, will be added up using points in a number of different categories such as absenteeism, school climate, equity gaps, graduation rates and test scores.

For instance, a school that has less than 4 percent of its students chronically absent — defined as missing 10 percent of school days or more — will receive 15 points, which is the maximum point total.

The school climate score will be determined through surveys that students and staff will take. The district does not get to see the surveys, and parents and families will also not be able to give input on school climate. A field test of the surveys will be distributed to fifth- through 11th-graders and school staff this spring, Aliveto said.

The addition of state surveys could have the district examine the amount of surveys it gives to students and staff. FCPS currently distributes perceptual surveys that it uses to obtain data for its strategic plan, which they will continue to distribute.

“We don’t want to over survey, but [the state survey] won’t collect open-ended responses or give us item details,” Aliveto said.

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler.

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