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County school board pens letter on challenges in implementing education reform

Additional state financing, elimination of the Maryland State Assessment program and an additional year of field-testing the new student assessment are among recent requests made to local legislators by the Carroll County Board of Education.

The Carroll County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly received a letter from the county school board earlier this month about its position on education reform that originated from the federal Race to the Top initiative and is now included in Maryland state law.

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The letter explained that what generally is referred to as "Common Core" is one of three major components of the educational reform that has been taking place since 2010, but it has been inaccurately generalized to encompass all reform efforts. The reform's three major components, which have separate and distinct initiatives with different objectives, deadlines and constituents, are: the Common Core state standards, teacher and principal evaluation changes and assessments by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers.

The county school board finds itself in an environment of waning public support to implement the reform efforts, according to the letter.

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"To further complicate our efforts, there is significant misinformation regarding the reform's scope and the extent of local control we have implementing the reform efforts," the letter states.

It went on to explain challenges the school system continues to address, including quantifying and implementing the student growth component for new evaluation standards with new, unreleased student assessments; providing accurate information to advocates opposed to the Common Core state standards; and providing professional development to teachers on locally developed curricula that effectively addresses current and future Common Core state standards.

"However, we want to make it clear that the Board of Education is committed to moving ahead with our legal obligation for educational reform as we believe that once fully implemented, all Maryland students and as a result, all Maryland citizens, will benefit," a passage of the letter states.

The letter went on to ask that as the legislators take up discussions about education reform during the 2014 legislative session, that they support changes to the implementation timeline.

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Sen. Joseph Getty, R-District 5, said he believes the opinions expressed in the letter reflect strong sentiments that exist with school boards, superintendents and with many legislators across Maryland.

There have been ongoing discussions about education reform since the county school board met with the Carroll delegation in October. At that meeting, Getty shared issues he has been hearing from teachers and what he has seen through his son, who is a 10th-grader in Carroll County, including serious concerns about the high school language arts program.

"Because of Common Core, Carroll County dismantled the system that was working and replaced it with something entirely different," he said. "My initial view is it is not doing better."

The school system had a good program when it came to language arts and advanced placement classes, for instance, Getty said. The high school English classes went from subject based, such as a survey of American Literature, to being labeled as English 9 through 12, and advanced placement literature or language courses can be taken in place of English 11 or 12.

Since the October meeting, the county school board has taken measures to evaluate how things have been working in the school system and an informal follow-up meeting took place, which included Getty, board member Barbara Shreeve, Superintendent Steve Guthrie, Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, and Delegate Susan Krebs, R-District 9B.

The letter includes much of what the group discussed in person: how the county school board suggests improving the full implementation of the three-part educational reform.

The implementation has been rushed, teachers are facing problems with workload and class preparation, and the state has to give somewhere, Getty said. The major topic in the pre-session bill drafting room is the Common Core state standards and other parts of education reform.

"I think all of the legislators have concerns, and we will be looking at the best way to restructure or pause or eliminate elements of Common Core in Maryland," he said. "We'll also be watching Baltimore County, where the teacher's union filed a grievance because of the implementation process."

Getty knows there are already bills drafted that deal with the issues in the letter to the county school board, and there is broad support for changes, except from the Maryland State Board of Education, he said.

In reference to one of the requests made in the letter, Guthrie said not conducting Maryland State Assessments this or next school year would be violation of federal law, so there needs to be a waiver to excuse the school system from the requirement. The MSA tests no longer match the county's curriculum.

"It's of no value," Guthrie said.

MSDE indicated that it doesn't believe it could get a waiver and won't apply for one, so the hope is that a waiver can instead be requested through the legislative process, Guthrie said.

An additional year of field-testing the PARCC assessments, in addition to this school year, without having also to give MSAs would allow for teachers to become more comfortable and for the school system to hold professional development as necessary, Guthrie said.

In the letter, Guthrie said the intention was to make it clear there is Maryland law that required the education reform and to give everyone who reads the letter a common frame of understanding. The letter is on the school system's website for the public to read.

The contents of the letter are consistent with the concern that there was a compressed time to implement the educational changes, Guthrie said.

"The board believes there was clearly not enough public discussion before going forward with the reform," he said.

Given the public concern that has been seen after the school system changed its curriculum to comply with the Common Core state standards in English and mathematics, statewide educational forums should happen before educational reform is made, Guthrie said(?)

. This is possible with the upcoming release of the science and social studies standards, he said.

This school year is the first where the new curriculum is fully implemented. The second year after implementation, counties in the state are supposed to start testing students, Guthrie said.

"Teachers need more than one year with a curriculum before we start testing them on it," he said.

The school system is not yet ready for the PARCC assessments. It still needs 468 technology devices, at a cost of about $500,000, and more technology support to meet the PARCC ratio

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, he said.

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"I don't think we're going to be able to meet the recommended testing window," Guthrie said concerning the current implementation requirements.

Guthrie said the school board is not asking the delegation to sponsor legislation, but asks them to be in agreement with bills they see that are consistent with the outlined positions.

"I do expect there will be a lot of bills," he said. "This also allows my staff to testify on bills that are consistent with the components in that letter."

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