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State unveils new school accountability system

Md. will use the School Progress Index under waiver it received from No Child Left Behind

By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

11:20 AM EST, December 18, 2012

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The Maryland State Department of Education unveiled Monday a new way of assessing accountability of each school in Maryland under the waiver that it received from the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The new measure, the School Progress Index, aims to cut in half the percentage of students who do not score at a proficient level on the state's assessments by 2017, school officials said. It replaces the system of measuring school targets called adequate yearly progress.

The index will offer a "snapshot" of each individual school. The index is calculated differently for elementary, middle and high schools, using scores from the Maryland School Assessments and High School Assessments.

The breakdown for each of the state's approximately 1,400 schools was made available Monday on the Maryland Report Card website. The state is using data from the 2011 assessments so that it has apple-to-apple comparisons going forward, officials said.

The website will allow parents and educators "to really be able to dig in to find out how are the students doing in the school, how are they achieving or how are they growing or is there an achievement gap," said Mary Gable, assistant state superintendent for academic policy.

For K-8, the index is determined using three indicators: achievement, growth and gap reduction. School officials said that it hopes to reduce the achievement gap between high- and low-performing student subgroups in state assessments.

Schools will receive a score based on each of the indicators, school officials said. Based on those scores, schools will then be placed into five categories, called strands, that show how schools are performing and where support and intervention is needed.

To reach the top strand, a school must have an overall index score of 1.0 or greater in all three indicator categories.

The index is part of the state's efforts to capitalize on the waiver it received from federal No Child Left Behind mandates, which would have required all students in the country to be proficient in math and reading by 2014 and would have left a growing number of schools labeled as failing. Maryland had submitted an application for a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education in February and received approval in May.

State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said the index is a better way to gauge school progress than the No Child Left Behind mandates.

During a meeting Monday in which the state school board was briefed on the system, many of the members questioned how well school communities would be able to readily understand the numbers, particularly regarding the achievement gap.

"While we believe the department has made tremendous progress on being able to determine where we are with regard to achievement, achievement gaps and the like, we want to make sure that it's easily understandable to the public," said state Board of Education President Charlene M. Dukes.

After fielding questions about the complexity of the data from board members, Lowery acknowledged that translating it in ways that the public can understand is often a challenge.

"We will work on that and make sure that happens, but we stand behind the math," she said.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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