The Maryland State School Board decided Tuesday not to make any changes to the new star rating system for schools, despite misgivings that schools can earn high ratings too easily.
The rating system first rolled out in December, gave 60 percent of the state’s schools four or five stars, leading critics to question whether non-academic factors were weighted too heavily.
The system grades schools based on their academic achievement in the form of test scores, and a variety of other factors, including attendance, graduation rate, and whether the school has a well-rounded curriculum.
Two months ago, the board considered adjusting how the system weights various factors so it would be harder for schools to score well, but after listening to everyone from parents to teachers, principals and superintendents across the state, the board backed off the idea of changing the rating system.
Maryland State School Superintendent Karen Salmon said concerns were raised that it was too soon to change the ratings, which will be adjusted anyway when a new science test and the results of school surveys are added next year. At each school across the state, teachers, students and parents will be surveyed about how they view their school’s climate.
The science test and survey results are designed to be integrated into the rating system, which designates schools on a scale from one star to five stars, with five being the best.
Furthermore, the state is poised to switch the standardized test it gives to all students in grades three through eight and high school from a national test to one that is designed by Maryland officials.
“There are too many variables that are outstanding,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, which represents most teachers in the state. The union would support doing away with the star rating system, she said.
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 legislature passed a law several years ago that restrained the state school board from making test scores count more than 65 percent in the rating. Some state school board members have chafed under the constraint as they attempted to design a system.
On Tuesday, board member David Steiner said the result of the legislature’s decision is that “schools with very weak academic results can be three star or four star” giving non-academic measures like whether the curriculum is well-rounded or whether a large number of students are chronically absent more weight.
But he also acknowledged that a trial run of the star rating system using old data did not turn out to be right in forecasting the actual results that appeared in December when the most recent tests and other factors were put into the system.
“You can’t keep moving the finish line,” Salmon said as she argued to keep the status quo.
She said the board will review the data each year to look at whether a change is needed.
In other business, the board agreed in principal to allow students to earn special seals that would be added to their high school diploma. The state will have to decide on how students would earn the seals and what they would be given for, but board members said they like to see seals given if a student has succeeded in advanced academic work or has gotten a certificate in a field that would qualify them to go directly to a job.
The board appeared to reject the notion of a two-tiered diploma, one for meeting basic education requirements and a second for students who are ready for college work.