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Maryland State School Board considers changes to star rating system for schools

The Maryland State School Board is considering changes to its newly released star rating system for schools after some complaints that it was too easy to earn a high rating.

When the first ratings were released in November, 43 percent of schools in the state were awarded four stars on a five-star scale, leading to the concern that the rating system was skewed.

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State Superintendent Karen Salmon said some local superintendents, as well as others, have questioned whether a school that had earned only 60 out of 100 possible points in the rating system should be awarded four stars.

The state school board heard from advocates who wanted the star ratings of some schools explained, said Justin Hartings, president of the Maryland State School Board, at a meeting Tuesday.

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“How can a school have a large number of stars when the achievement gap is so large?” Hartings said.

See a statewide map showing the new star ratings for every Maryland public school.

The star ratings are part of a new accountability system that uses factors beyond test scores, including whether a school has a well-rounded curriculum and what percentage of its students are chronically absent. Academic achievement accounts for 65 percent of a school’s total points, a percentage that was dictated by the Maryland General Assembly.

State school board members have been frustrated that with achievement accounting for just 65 percent of a school’s rating, some schools with relatively low pass rates on state tests can still become three- or four-star schools.

“We want the overall report card aligned to our objectives, but are limited” by federal and state laws, Hartings said.

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On Tuesday, state officials presented the school board with three options for changing the ratings.

While they are not proposing changing the criteria used to judge schools, they told the board it could change the number of points a school needs to earn a certain star rating. In one scenario, schools would have to earn more points to be awarded four or five stars. In another, more schools would earn a three-star rating.

The state teachers union and some board members contacted by The Sun declined to comment before they had a chance to study the options.

Maryland released its first star ratings for every public school Tuesday, with results that showed 60 percent of schools earned three or four stars out of five.

After the ratings were released in November, eight local districts appealed some of their schools’ ratings.

State officials announced Tuesday they had completed the appeal process and made adjustments to the scores of more than two dozen schools in five school districts, including significant numbers in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. Some schools were not given points for offering students physical education and health classes, and others were missing attendance data, officials said. In all but one case, the number of points increased.

In Baltimore City, 17 schools were awarded more points in the rating system after the adjustments were made, but in only three cases did the additional points change the school’s star rating.

Creative City Public Charter School went from a one-star school to a two-star school. Lillie May Carroll Jackson School and Banneker Blake Academy for Arts and Sciences went from two stars to three stars. Banneker will be closed at the end of this school year, after the city school board voted not to renew its charter.

Carl Stokes, the co-founder of Banneker, said the improvement in his school’s rating is really irrelevant. Stokes wants his school to be judged on how far they take children over the three years they stay at his middle school, rather than on end-of-year tests.

The school took in 100 sixth graders from city elementary schools last fall, and every student was reading and doing math below grade level.

“When we get graded on where they started and where they are at the end of three years, I think that is a more true grading,” he said.

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