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Maryland's high schools are being put to the test


Maryland's school systems will know for sure who flunked on Jan. 15.

That's when the state Department of Education plans to issue warnings to local school superintendents about high schools that are not considered up to par, and are ripe for state takeover.

"There's no list that's been established yet," said Valerie Cloutier, an assistant attorney general assigned to the Maryland Department of Education.

"We're going to be evaluating the attendance, the dropout rate and the Maryland Functional Test composite results, and we'll be looking at four years' worth of data."

State educators will be looking not just at whether individual high schools are meeting state standards, but whether they're losing ground instead of drawing closer to the standards.

In Anne Arundel County, for example, four high schools -- Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Meade and Northeast -- failed to meet the minimum state standards this year.

But that doesn't mean they'll receive warnings.

"If not meeting the minimum standards was the only criteria, almost all the schools would fall," Ms. Cloutier said.

But if a school has shown consistent improvement in test scores and other areas over the past four years, as Glen Burnie High has, that school might be given more time to meet the standards set in the School Performance Program, she said.

"We're also going to be looking at the specifics of each school. If there's a new administration and we feel the people are trying, we're not putting them on the list," Ms. Cloutier said.

"The situation at Northeast is precisely the kind of special and unique circumstance that we would weigh heavily in deciding whether it's appropriate to order that school to go through more changes."

The school has suffered turmoil and has gained national fame this year with the arrests of three teachers on charges of being sexually involved with students.

For schools that receive warnings, administrators will have until April 1 to prepare a school improve ment plan and to submit it to state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

If she approves, the school will receive time to put the changes into effect. But if the proposal is rejected, Dr. Grasmick will forward a recommendation to the state Board of Education that the school be "reconstituted," or taken over, either by the state or an independent third party.

The local school system will have an opportunity to draft its preferred reconstitution plan, but if that is rejected, the state would be free to contract with a third party to operate the school.

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