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Editorial: School ratings plan a novel concept

If you want to know how good a restaurant or a movie is, you can visit a website like Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes for a simple rating system. But how do you determine that for a school?

Earlier this week, the Maryland State Board of Education approved a plan that would rank every public school in the state on a five-star rating system beginning next school year. The plan is part of the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act.

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The ratings system — part of a larger plan that will be sent to the governor and state legislature for review this week, and ultimately must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September — presents a simple way for parents to get a feel for a whole school experience, rather than just test scores.

No Child Left Behind put a high emphasis on the results of standardized testing, which critics argued had educators focused on teaching to the test rather than providing robust learning experiences for students. ESSA seeks to remedy that and return some of the power to the states to determine school accountability.

Maryland's plan still takes test scores into account — 65 percent of a school's rating will be based on academic achievement, which include performance on those tests — but will also consider parent surveys, attendance rates and student enrollment in a range of subjects.

"Our kids are more than just standardized test scores and that's why educators and parents value all of what our students learn in school, not just what is measured on one assessment," Cheryl Bost, the vice president of the state teachers union, the Maryland State Education Association, told The Baltimore Sun.

We couldn't agree more and this is a scale we believe will highlight Carroll County's public schools even more than traditionally high achievement on standardized tests.

Under ESSA, high schools will earn more points based on the percentage of students who complete advanced classes, achieve various career skills and meet University of Maryland entry requirements; enrollment in fines arts, social studies, physical education and health classes will be taken into account when determining elementary and middle schools scores.

That's not to discount the importance of reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic most standardized tests focus on, rather acknowledging that offering a diversity of learning opportunities not just in other subjects but also other levels of difficulty should certainly be considered important to a students' education and therefore be reflected in the schools' ratings.

The plan approved would also promote schools that close achievement gaps among minority student groups, special education students and students from low-income families.

However, the weighting of the criteria seems a bit off. Fifteen percent of the total score will be based on attendance rates and the percentage of students absent more than 20 days per year. That seems like a high threshold to us, and a way to artificially inflate star-ratings. And while attendance is typically a strong indicator of an individual's academic success, poor attendance seems more a reflection of parenting rather than efforts of a school's teachers and administrators.

Still, the plan is a step in the right direction and the star-rating system is one that could benefit Carroll County as it looks to grow in the future, highlighting its strong public school system as a selling point to young families and other potential residents.



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