Given the criteria, it probably shouldn’t have been surprising that Carroll County Public Schools came out among the best school systems in the state under the new Maryland Report Card five-star rating system, with nearly every school in the county receiving four or five stars.
The scores take into account a number of factors beyond test scores, although those are still part of the formula. This year’s ratings are also based on graduation rates, whether students are chronically absent, progress of English learners, and whether students have access to a well-rounded curriculum. Results of state tests in English language arts and math were used to calculate this year’s scores.
Statewide, scores were relatively strong. More than 70 percent of schools were rated three or four stars, and 60 percent earned four or five stars. Most of the lowest performing schools were in impoverished areas like Baltimore City.
But the scores may also be a bit misleading. In 2017, the Maryland legislature passed a law that stated academic achievement — which includes raw test score data and student progress year-over-year — could account for no more than 65 percent of the school’s rating.
Members of the state’s school board expressed concerns that too much emphasis on the other factors like attendance and graduation rate may be skewing the ratings to make them appear better than they are. One member of the state board noted that some Maryland students are leaving high school still under-prepared for post-secondary education, but the high scores don’t seem to reflect that reality. It’s an issue that has been brought up regarding Carroll County Public Schools’ students in the past as well.
Carroll has long been near the top of the state in both attendance and graduation rates, both above 95 percent. That’s not to say these aren’t important, certainly there is a correlation between attendance and student success. However we would argue that attendance is much more about a student’s parents’ personal emphasis on the importance of education. Certainly we wish that more families would place the same emphasis on the importance of school that Carroll parents seem to do — but we’re not positive it’s an accurate measure of the success of the school system itself.
While the amount of time spent on standardized high-stakes testing has been vilified over the years — and we don’t disagree with the notion educators spend too much time teaching the test versus teaching the material — it certainly seems to us that testing and student progress might still be the best measures we have of a school system’s ability to teach students and shouldn’t be de-emphasized.
In later years, according to a Maryland State Department of Education report, science and social studies achievement will be included in the criteria as those tests are added, although the percentage that test results are counted is unlikely to change without the legislature revisiting the matter.
Carroll, of course, has outperformed its peers in testing, too, so it’s likely not much will change as it relates to the county’s standing in future years.
We do, however look forward to next year, when the rating system will take into account results of a standardized survey that will ask both students and educators how they view their school. That survey, perhaps, will be a bit more revealing, as the school culture can be quite telling in a students’ ability to learn and achieve, even if it is less empirical and more anecdotal evidence.
For now, Carroll should celebrate its successes and tout its top-notch school system, but keep the latest ratings in perspective.