131 stay on Md. list of failing schools

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland education officials released the annual list of failing schools yesterday, saying that 13 elementary and middle schools had improved enough to be taken off the list, but 131 throughout the state remain.

The designation has taken on new meaning this year because it will trigger a range of actions schools must take under the new federal No Child Left Behind law. If schools continue to fail over a period of years, a state must require a major overhaul, including new staff, or the state can have a private contractor take over a school.

When a school with a high percentage of children from poor families enrolled appears on the list, some parents will have the opportunity to apply to have their children transferred out or seek after-school tutoring, paid for by the school system.

Schools on the list were determined to be failing based on scores from a new state test that was taken in March, as well as a statewide test given last year. The results of the new test, the Maryland School Assessment, are expected to be released Friday. State officials said they are reviewing data on the high schools and will release those results later.

In examining this year's performance, Maryland educators were faced with the task of comparing the "proficiency" standard of the MSA -- approved by the state Board of Education last month -- with the old "satisfactory" standard of the former test, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. That test was far different and was dropped two years ago because it failed to yield individual student results.

To demonstrate adequate yearly progress, schools must not only show that the student body as a whole demonstrates proficiency in reading and math, but pupils in eight subgroups must also meet the standards as well. Those subgroups, defined by federal regulations, include African-American pupils, students whose native language is not English and special education pupils.

Schools can be placed on the needs-improvement list if they fail to meet only one of 18 standards.

No surprises

Unlike many other states announcing the names of failing schools for the first time this summer, Maryland has had a system of school accountability for more than a decade. There were few big surprises; no new schools were added to the list and several districts reported the good news that schools were being removed.

Still, several school systems -- including Baltimore City and Howard County -- have been left scrambling to notify parents that their children are or are not eligible for tutoring or transfers.

Baltimore, the district with the highest number of failing schools, 76, also had the largest number that had showed improvement.

"We are very, very pleased that seven of our schools have made enough progress [that] they are exiting the process," said Mary Yakimowski, Baltimore's chief of educational accountability.

Three of the schools removed from the list were in the CEO's District, a group that has gotten much attention and extra money during the past two years.

Another group of schools across the city improved enough to meet all the state targets for reading and math on the most recent round of tests, but they will not be eligible to be removed from the list until they have had demonstrated two straight years of improvement.

Such is the case for about 30 schools across the state, according to Ron Peiffer, an assistant secretary of education.

Powhatan Elementary School in Woodlawn was a Baltimore County school removed from the list this year. Principal Yasmin R. Stokes attributed the improvement to more parent involvement, better collaboration among teachers and teacher training after school and on Saturdays. The school also reduced class sizes.

"The class sizes were extremely small for reading, language arts and math, and that made a world of difference. Because I think then we really met the needs of students," Stokes said.

Appeal fails

Howard County administrators were disappointed to learn that more schools had not been removed from the list.

"We had appealed to the state on two schools," said Howard schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "But the state disagreed."

The appeal was based on improved standardized test scores at Phelps Luck and Bryant Woods elementaries.

In Anne Arundel County, three out of six schools put on the failing schools list last year showed progress, said Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

Georgetown East, Harman and Park elementary schools achieved educational gains in all areas tested on the state assessment exam. If pupils post scholastic improvements again next year, the schools could be removed from the failing schools list.

Van Bokkelen Elementary School, which was reconstituted seven years ago, also failed to meet at least one educational goal, said Nancy Mann, assistant superintendent for instruction.

Mann said that all six schools on the county's failing schools list used a new phonics-based reading program last year, which might have contributed to improved test scores. The reading program will be introduced systemwide in the fall.

Making progress

Two Harford elementary schools, Halls Cross Roads in Aberdeen and Magnolia in Joppa, were included on the list but have been making progress, said Patricia Skebeck, director of elementary education for the Harford County public schools system. Because the schools were in the program last year, parents were notified of their option to choose another school in the spring, she said.

Magnolia, like many schools across the state, met many of the standards set under the new federal legislation. However, its special-education pupils scored too low on the standardized test.

In the coming years, more schools whose students score well on average could be put in the failing category because a subgroup does not perform well enough.

Although none of the 10 schools in Montgomery County on the failing schools list earned their way off, county officials said all 10 achieved the state's schoolwide passing standard and the vast majority of the standards for the eight subgroups.

"It was a notable achievement given the immense challenges facing all of these schools," said Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

Two Montgomery schools, Broad Acres and Burnt Mills, passed in all 18 categories but remained on the list because they need to repeat the performance a second year.

And Wheaton Woods, which did well on MSPAP in 2002, stayed on the list because pupils failed one performance area -- limited English proficiency.

"The school's earlier accomplishments will no longer be counted toward the goal of adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years because of this year's break in annual progression," said Weast. "This seems unduly restrictive and punitive."

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson, Tricia Bishop, Mike Bowler, Lane Harvey Brown and Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.

Because of an editing error, in some editions yesterday the status of two Columbia elementary schools was misstated. Phelps Luck and Bryant Woods remain on a state list of failing schools, along with four other Howard County elementary schools.The Sun regrets the error.
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