Harford schools implementing new accountability program

Chronic absenteeism in Harford County Public Schools could have a detrimental impact on the overall grade each school receives under Maryland’s new Protect Our Schools Act of 2017, but the possibility of a low grade is not going to change how schools handle disciplinary problems that contribute to absenteeism, the superintendent said.

Absenteeism is one of the non-academic elements that account for 35 percent of a school’s rating under the new state accountability program developed in response to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The others are climate survey — or school environment — and opportunities and access to a well-rounded curriculum.

Academic elements make up 65 percent of a school’s rating.

The new measures are being implemented this school year in Harford County with assistance from the Maryland State Department of Education.

The state education department was to submit its Maryland consolidated plan to the U.S. Department of Education on Monday. Approval of the plan could take several months, Susan Brown, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the school system, told members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting Sept. 11.

The law specifies what factors should be considered in the school accountability system and what weights should be afforded them. Under ESSA, states are required to consider a wider variety of factors than those under its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, including measures of both academic achievement and student growth, and also school quality measures like the availability of Advanced Placement classes, the presence of highly qualified teachers and the results of school climate surveys.

The Protect Our Schools Act was passed in the last Maryland General Assembly session, as the legislature’s Democratic majority sought to ensure local schools would have a say in implementing the federal program.

The legislation was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, who said he feared its passage would jeopardize federal aid to Maryland schools. But the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate overrode the veto.

“Our job is to provide a safe and secure environment for students,” Superintendent Barbara Canavan told the school board Sept. 11 in addressing the non-academic areas upon which individual schools will be rated.

Disciplinary problems as part of attendance issues will be handled in the same way they always have regardless of the impact on the school’s rating, she said.

Chronic absenteeism accounts for 15 percent of the non-academic standards. The schools climate survey and curriculum are each 10 percent, according to Renee Villareal, coordinator of school improvement for HCPS.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as students enrolled for at least 10 days and absent 10 percent or more of those days regardless of reason, Villareal told the school board.

Using the 180-day school year, a student who misses 18 or more days is considered chronically absent. Those absences include medically fragile students and students who are expelled or suspended.

“That’s a huge change for us,” Villareal said.

Ten percent of the school’s rating is dependent on its climate/environment. Villareal told board members a survey will be given to students, families and staff, and will consider working conditions and student motivation, among other factors. She said HCPS is looking at vendors to create the survey.

While academic factors consider completion of a well-rounded curriculum, non-academic factors include access to those opportunities, which vary from elementary school, to middle school, to high school.

School ratings

Schools will be rated using a star system, 1 through 5, Phillip Snyder, HCPS supervisor of accountability, told the board.

These ratings will be shared across the state and the U.S., Canavan said.

“The most important thing for us to keep in mind is this will be shared publicly,” she said.

In addition to the star rating, schools will be issued “overall descriptors” for performance, such as exemplary, commendable, on track and underperforming as examples, although specific, final terms have not been determined, Snyder said.

Part of a school’s rating will be based on all public schools; and arrows will designate how their academic performance compares with the previous year.

The lowest performing schools will be identified as “Targeted Support and Improvement School” or “Comprehensive Support and Improvement School,” Snyder said.

Academic measures

Academic achievement accounts for 20 percent of the academic measures at the elementary, middle and high school levels, based on results of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests or Maryland’s Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) tests, the latter given to students with severe cognitive disabilities, Snyder said.

The long-term goal is to reduce the number of students not achieving proficiency on those tests by 2030. Once each school has its baseline score, there will be annual targets set reach to achieve the long-term goal. Those will be broken down into various students groups, Snyder told the board.

“Every school, every student group at each school will have specialized goals,” he said.

English language proficiency accounts for 10 percent of academic measures across all levels and will be measured by the percentage of students who progress year over year. om year to year

At the elementary level, 25 percent of the score is based on how students do year over year in English/language arts and math on PARCC or MSAA.

Ten percent accounts for credit for completion of a well-rounded curriculum — 5 percent for the percent of students scoring proficient on the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment and 5 percent of fifth-graders passing social studies, fine arts, physical education and health courses.

In middle schools, growth in English/language arts, and math also accounts for 25 percent, and well-rounded curriculum for 10 percent, however, the measures are expanded. The percent of students scoring proficient on the MSSA accounts for 3.5 percent, the percent of students scoring proficient on the social studies assessment accounts for 3.5 percent ,and the percent of eighth-graders passing English/language arts, math, social studies and science courses are factors in the score.

At the high school levels, school ratings also consider graduation rate (15 percent) and readiness for post-secondary success (on track in ninth grade), 10 percent, and credit for completion of a well-rounded curriculum, 10 percent, Snyder said.

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