More than a third of Baltimore City Public Schools earned fewer stars this year in the first batch of star ratings awarded since the coronavirus pandemic by state education officials to every public school statewide.
The state’s accountability system, known as the Maryland Report Card, awards each school up to five stars based on a formula that aims to measure overall performance. The formula takes into account a variety of factors, including standardized test scores, absenteeism, graduation rates, quality of curriculum, progress of English-language-learners and student and educator surveys.
The scores released Thursday provide local school systems, families and communities across the state with a new look at the pandemic’s lingering impact on public education during the 2021-22 academic year.
About three-quarters of Baltimore city schools earned one- or two-star ratings compared to a little more than half on the state’s most recent report card for the 2018-19 academic year. Although more than half of the city’s 147 schools to receive ratings held onto their previous stars, 56 schools received lower marks than three years ago.
The ratings place Baltimore City’s performance behind the state’s 23 other jurisdictions.
Just three city schools managed to gain a star. Baltimore School for the Arts earned the school system’s lone five-star rating after receiving four stars in 2019. Baltimore Polytechnic Institute was previously the only school to earn five stars in 2019 before losing a star this year.
City Neighbors Hamilton, an elementary/middle charter school, rose from three stars to four stars. And Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy West, an all-boys middle/high school in West Baltimore, went from a one-star rating in 2019 to two stars this year.
Some schools do not receive ratings, such as separate public day schools that serve students with disabilities.
Administrators attribute the city school system’s lower scores to chronic absenteeism, which accounted for 15% of the overall rating, and setbacks in standardized test scores, particularly for mathematics.
Attendance at public schools has decreased across the state. The city school system had an 81.8% attendance rate last year and a 68.7% graduation rate.
City students also struggled on the standardized test known as the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, which factors into the state’s formula for calculating star ratings. Just 21% of third through eighth graders scored proficient in English language arts, and 7% were deemed proficient in math. The city’s 10th graders scored slightly better in English, with 34% achieving proficient scores. Less than 5% of city students tested in Algebra 1 scored proficient.
“It’s a disappointment, but at the same time, I wouldn’t consider it really surprising,” said Theresa Jones, chief achievement and accountability officer for the city school system.
Administrators have been on a mission to help students rebound from the pandemic’s impact over the past three academic years, but “in some cases, it’s taking longer,” she said.
Officials have touted the system’s $20 million investment into high-dosage — or frequent, intensive — tutoring since the 2021-22 school year, as well as extended learning periods in all schools and training for teachers with a focus on mathematics.
Jones said officials take Baltimore City’s star ratings seriously, but they are just one measure of performance.
“We also know that there’s nuance and context that matters,” she said.
In a statement Thursday, city schools CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises also said the results were not surprising, but added that administrators “strongly believe that we have strategies that, over time, will lead to enhanced student achievement.”
Officials plan to dig deeper into the data in coming months to identify trends at schools that lost a star rating. Recovery doesn’t look the same for every student, Jones said.
“Looking at our population in Baltimore City, we’ve certainly planned intentionally to try to address those needs,” she said. “To have that path of acceleration manifest in this data, we’re not there yet.”
[ Baltimore County Public Schools earned fewer stars in Maryland Report Card ratings than pre-pandemic ]
Maryland schools as a whole also earned fewer stars this year than prior to the pandemic. The results show most public schools — about 63% — managed to hold onto their stars during the pandemic, with 26% losing a star and just 11% gaining a star in 2021-22 compared to 2018-19.
About 48% of all Maryland schools earned a four- or five-star rating, with middle schools performing lower than elementary and high schools. More than 75% of state schools earned three or more stars.
The Evening Sun
Maryland State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury declined an interview request Thursday but said in a news release that the report card is a starting point for officials to shape local education policy and implement evidence-based strategies to drive student outcomes.
“That work is more urgent now than ever,” Choudhury said in the release. “This broad collection of information will help our [local education agencies] monitor and support students based on their individual needs, especially the needs of students in historically underserved communities.
“It will also help [the Maryland State Department of Education] better understand the needs of our [local education agencies], so we can effectively deliver on the promise of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and provide every Maryland child with the excellent education they deserve.”
The scores come at a time when local school systems are finalizing their preliminary implementation plans tied to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a landmark education reform set to inject billions into the state’s public schools throughout the decade.
The state’s star rating system for schools is tied to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan 2015 replacement for the No Child Left Behind Act. The state relaunched the federally aligned accountability system during the 2017-18 academic year. It released results again for the 2018-19 cycle before pausing the accountability measures due to the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Education has granted states, including Maryland, some flexibility in reporting the accountability measures for the 2021-22 school year. The state made one-time adjustments to how it rated schools on factors that were affected significantly by the pandemic.
For elementary and middle schools, the state changed its calculation for measuring growth in English language arts and mathematics. And officials adjusted the way all schools earned points related to chronic absenteeism. Annual targets for schools also were adjusted to account for the pause in reporting results, according to a news release.
A previous version of a table accompanying this article incorrectly stated how many 1-star schools and 3-star schools there are in Harford County. The Sun regrets the error.