Like a chef bracing for a critic’s review in the Times, Maryland schools join districts across the nation in preparing for the implementation of new state accountability plans beginning with the start of the school year this fall. All Maryland schools will be subject to a statewide ranking system — five stars to the best schools, one star to the worst.
Amid a state-level partisan clash and a shifting emphasis away from test scores alone, Frederick County Public Schools is bracing for change.
“State accountability is not new, but we’ve kind of been on hiatus from that,” said Jamie Aliveto, director of systems accountability and school improvement at Frederick County Public Schools. “We are going back into a time when all school data will be available — and one of the key differences for this plan is that it includes multiple measures.”
“I’m most excited about the ‘on track in ninth grade’ measure because there is plenty of research that points to that year ... being a critical point in that student’s future success,” she said. Other measures — like categories on the game show “Jeopardy” assigned different point values — will include credit for completion of a well-rounded curriculum, chronic absenteeism and school climate as key factors in the quality of a school.
Academic achievement is limited to taking up 65 percent of Maryland schools’ rankings, and a category the community will see on schools’ report cards.
Maryland districts can also expect to get a clear sense of where the achievement gaps in their schools lie. While the report cards coming out for Maryland schools this fall will disaggregate data to show all school performance in addition to performance broken down by race or student group, they will also clearly show the achievement gap in percentage points between various student groups, according to recommendations presented to the Maryland State Board of Education on Tuesday.
It’s the first time in years that Maryland counties will be subject to this kind of broad, state-level accountability, the result of the Obama-era Every Student Succeeds Act. Replacing the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA aimed to be less prescriptive, to see success more fully.
The passage of ESSA and approval by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos of Maryland’s accountability plan has already triggered a response at the district level; FCPS officials have long been preparing staff internally for their schools’ report cards.
“For over a year, we have done presentations and work with our principal leaders to help them understand how the state plan was shaping up, keeping them in the loop,” Aliveto said. “Frederick County is very lucky that we have three of our staff members participate on the state accountability work group. We were able to offer insight and thinking when there was a decision we could contribute to.”
School officials are training principals in the new accountability plan and measures, but Aliveto said that doesn’t necessarily translate to change in priorities at the school level.
“While there hasn’t been state accountability, there has been local accountability,” Aliveto said. “Schools are already accountable for those measures like attendance and achievement and student growth. So I don’t think this will be a major shift in schools, but they are currently looking at how does this fit with what they are already doing and doing well.”
FCPS plans to take the conversation to the community next, informing parents and other stakeholders. School officials will meet with real estate agents and businesses, according to Michael Markoe, deputy superintendent at FCPS, anticipating the potentially wide-reaching impact of the school report cards.
Families considering the area might flock to one attendance area or another to get their child that five-star education. On the other end of things, some schools in FCPS falling below state standards might be identified as needing further support — as Comprehensive Support and Improvement or as Targeted Support and Improvement schools, needing attention only for specific student groups. Ultimately, school officials must wait to see the full breadth of the report cards’ impact.
“Our Title I schools do quite well across the state of Maryland,” Aliveto said. “TSI schools will be schools who have a low-performing student group. During the first round of reporting in September or October, we will find out if we have schools in that category.”