State seeks feedback on new plan that will grade Harford schools

Harford County Public Schools officials are spending part of their summer studying and formulating a response to the state's plans to meet new federal guidelines for grading how well each school performs. The federal plan could be implemented in Maryland as early as the 2018-19 school year.

Officials expect to submit their input on how to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act to the state by the Maryland State Department of Education's Aug. 10 deadline, according to Nancy Reynolds, president of the Harford County Board of Education.

Reynolds wrote in a recent email that HCPS and the superintendent were looking at "what impact this will have on our school system and our schools." Reynolds said in a recent emailed statement.

The state approved a preliminary plan at the end of June to comply with the federal mandate, also known as ESSA, which former President Barack Obama signed into law in 2015. It replaces the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

But state board members expressed concern about how the rankings would be developed, how academic data would be incorporated into the overall ranking and how rankings would be explained to the public.

"What can we defend to the public?" state board president Andrew Smarick asked, according to a June Baltimore Sun story.

No Child Left Behind was controversial among educators, parents and students for its emphasis on measuring schools by student test scores and the subsequent impact those scores had on school funding. ESSA also relies heavily on test scores.

Joseph Voskuhl, vice president of the Harford school board, said last week that he is reviewing a report on the plan prepared by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or MABE. He said he could not comment further.

That state plan must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education and includes a five-star ranking system for individual schools.

Maryland public schools officials say they want to get input from anyone hear from anybody who believes he or she they would be affected by the state's proposed school improvement plan.

"We want to hear from everybody," William Reinhard, spokesperson for the Maryland State Department of Education, said Monday.

The MSDE has made a survey available, via SurveyMonkey, through which members of the public can give feedback. The deadline for input is Aug. 10.

The new federal system is just the latest effort to measure how well each school does educating its students and making results available to the public.

The state's five-star rankings for each school would be available to the public via the Maryland Report Card website, http://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov, where test results and graduation data are already posted.

"Prospective residents already do this" Reinhard said when asked how someone considering moving to Harford County could find the rankings for how well students at each school performed.

"[The Maryland Report Card is] It's a very heavily trafficked site," he said.

Standardized test scores weigh heavily in the state's proposed five-star rankings for elementary, middle and high schools.

Harford County students have, overall, scored above average on the state's performance exams, known as PARCC testing, in recent years.

Demonstrating proficiency and growth in scores on English/language arts and mathematics exams comprise 45 percent of the ranking for elementary and middle schools, according to an MSDE news release.

Officials also weigh students' completion of a "well-rounded" curriculum (10 percent), student achievement of English-language proficiency (10 percent), chronic absenteeism (15 percent), school climate (10 percent) and "opportunities and access" to a well-rounded curriculum (10 percent), according to the release.

English and math test scores account for 20 percent of a high school's ranking. The graduation rate covers another 15 percent, followed by 10 percent for English-language proficiency, 10 percent for the number of ninth-graders on track for graduation and 10 percent for completing a well-rounded curriculum.

The ranking also includes chronic absenteeism (15 percent), school climate (10 percent) and access to a well-rounded curriculum (10 percent), according to the news release.

"That's just one part of our plan to meet the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act," Reinhard stressed.

He said the state plan includes resources to support teachers and students. State officials want to make resources available for teachers, such as "regional teacher learning centers," online programs and stronger induction programs for new educators.

The plan to expand the options for professional certification, improve professional development and ensure schools that are struggling can get access to "outstanding teachers," according to the release.

Additional resources for students would include federal funds that would help local districts and schools give their students a well-rounded curriculum, plus greater state support for giving students access to STEM programs, college preparation and the fine arts.

The state board is scheduled to review the public input and take a vote on its plan during its Aug. 22 meeting. The board must send its response to the state plan to the Department of Education by Sept. 18, according to Reinhard.

Federal education officials can either sign off on the state's plan, or seek more information from the state. The plan could be in effect for the 2018-2019 school year, depending on the federal approval process, according to Reinhard.

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