Harford superintendent pleased with top rankings, expects more schools to rise in the future

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The superintendent of Harford County schools said Thursday he’s pleased with the system’s performance in new state ranking released this week that show 10 county schools achieving a top five-star rank.

Two days after the release of the new ratings, Superintendent Sean Bulson said he expects even more Harford schools will see their rankings improve in the future as officials share information with administrators about how the state establishes the rankings.

Staff from the school system’s accountability office worked with principals in Harford’s 54 schools this year to help them better understand the new system.

“I’m very proud of our schools that received high ratings, and I have every confidence we’re going to see even more rated that way in the future,” said Bulson, who is in his first year as superintendent.

Schools throughout Maryland were ranked on a scale of one to five stars.

Ten Harford schools achieved five stars, including four elementary schools — Churchville, Emmorton, Homestead/Wakefield and Jarrettsville — and six high schools — North Harford, Bel Air, C. Milton Wright, Fallston, Harford Technical, North Harford and Patterson Mill.

Additionally, 27 Harford schools received a four-star ranking.

The rankings incorporate multiple factors including test scores, attendance, graduation rates, students’ academic growth and how well they are prepared for college or careers. They are based on accountability requirements in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Bulson noted that growth rates are another helpful way to measure and improve student achievement beyond test scores. Officials can see how many students pass a standardized test, plus they can see how students at different levels of achievement have progressed compared to their peers at the same level.

He gave an example of a class of students who achieve at a lower level, but add 10 points to their test scores compared to the previous year.

“This growth measure gives us a better way of understanding if the work they’re doing [in the classroom] is having the impact they need to have,” Bulson said.

Harford Tech, in Bel Air, is open to students countywide. There, students learn a career or technical skill such construction, culinary arts, health care or graphic design, in addition to core academics, sports and extracurricular activities.

Principal Joe Collins said many top-ranked schools around the state are technical schools, which he noted “affirms technical education and just what that can do for students who participate in those schools.”

Collins is in his second year as principal and was an assistant principal at Harford Tech for four years. He said the ranking affirms what Harford Tech has done to prepare students for life after graduation, to help minority students become top achievers and help all students perform well on English standardized tests. Plus, he said, the ranking shows how math scores can improve.

“I’m very proud to work alongside some of the best educators I’ve ever been around,” Collins said.

Kathy Garafola, principal of Jarrettsville Elementary, said she thinks her school’s ranking shows “a combination of things that we work on here that contribute to student success.”

“We are always looking at data, and we’re using it to drive instruction and meet our students’ needs,” she said.

Garafola stressed the importance of knowing students, their strengths and weaknesses and interests, to help plan instruction. The school also encourages student-led learning, so children take ownership and responsibility for their own instruction, “and they seem to thrive on that,” she said.

She said school administrators will educate students and parents about the state’s ranking framework and the federal ESSA requirements, noting that “it’s nice for them to have the guidelines on what Maryland feels is rolled into student success and achievement.”

Bulson said officials in his administration would “be happy” to give a public presentation on the rankings so people can better understand the state’s requirements.

“We have really great schools here, so it’s nice to see that reflected in the rankings,” Bulson said. “I see just so much great work going on.”

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