Howard schools score well in state's new star rating system, but officials say focus remains on student needs

Most Howard County schools received high scores in the state’s new star education rankings, but officials with the school system say their analysis of the rating isn’t focused on the number of stars, but rather on the factors that helped the school succeed — and where improvements can still be made.

“The rating means less to us, because every school has a story and every school needs support so those schools can grow,” said Bill Barnes, the system’s chief academic officer.


The new ranking system unveiled last week for schools across Maryland is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act — known as ESSA — an accountability program required by the federal government.

The ratings factor in test scores, including academic achievement on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC tests, as well as a schools graduation percentages, achievement of English language learners, chronic absenteeism rates and whether the school has a well-rounded curriculum.


Nearly half of Howard County’s schools came out with top ratings in the state’s new education rankings, part of a federal accountability system that grades all public schools based on test scores as well as measures such as graduation rates and achievement of English language learners.

Schools were rated from a minimum of one star to a maximum of five.

In Howard County, 91 percent of schools that were evaluated received either four or five stars.

That compares with other local jurisdictions such as Baltimore County, which had 60 percent of its schools rated with four or five stars; Montgomery County, which had 78 percent achieving four or five stars; and Carroll County with 95 percent of its schools rated with four or five. Anne Arundel County’s ratings showed a higher percentage of schools earning two and three stars.

Of Howard’s 74 schools evaluated, 31 received five stars, 36 received four stars, six received three stars and one received one star, according to the report. No Howard schools received two stars.

Three schools — Hanover Hills Elementary, Cedar Lane and the Applications and Research Laboratory — were not included in the report. Hanover Hills was excluded because the school is in is first year, and Cedar Lane and the Applications Research Laboratory are categorized as non-comprehensive schools because of specialty programs.

Barnes said that in Howard County, all schools craft yearly school improvement plans, setting goals for the upcoming academic year. The plans, created by a team of staff, teachers, students and community members, look at data including, discipline and absentee rates, to determine where improvements can be made.

“We are very proud of the results [from the star ratings] but we are not surprised because schools pay close attention to their data,” he said.

Barnes said beginning this year, schools will start their planning process in the spring to consider new improvements, instead of waiting until the summer. That way, he said, they’ll be able to open the school year with the plan in place.

In Maryland's new star rating system, a number of schools have overcome odds to emerge with four- and five-star scores.

The county did well in the new ranking system’s inaugural year. But Tim Guy, coordinator of student assessment for the school system, said officials know the review will evolve over time. In future years, for instance, the system will include results of the state’s new science and social studies testing program.

Another new factor will be a “climate survey” in which the state will ask students and educators questions about they view their school in terms of environment, safety, relationships and engagement.

“The climate survey is going to be a unique opportunity to see how our student groups are feeling in our school communities,” Guy said.

As it looks at the data and assesses student needs, the school system views the latest results as another tool for school improvement, not as a ranking system, Barnes said.


“The three-, four-, five-star ratings is not what drives us,” Barnes said. “Our north star is about the work, the kids.”

With reporting from the Baltimore Sun

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