When Maryland’s new public school rating system was released earlier this month, Anne Arundel County stood out as a high-performing system with mediocre ratings.
It had many more elementary schools that earned only two or three stars on the one-to-five scale than surrounding jurisdictions including Baltimore and Howard counties, where most elementary schools earned either three or four stars.
What Anne Arundel County school officials found was that every elementary school in the system had received no points in a rating category that could have earned it 15 points. The result was a huge swing in the ratings that downgraded every elementary school by one star, school officials said.
Until this year, schools were held accountable primarily for how their students scored on state standardized tests. Under the new system, they are judged on a variety of areas, including test scores, the rate of chronically absent students, how well the school’s English language learners are performing, as well as whether the school has a “well-rounded curriculum.”
One of the courses that schools must certify they are teaching in order to get credit for a “well-rounded curriculum” is fifth-grade health. The state specifies which concepts must be taught as part of the health curriculum.
Because Anne Arundel County was teaching those health concepts within its science class, it couldn’t confirm that every fifth-grader was getting each one of the concepts, school officials said.
Spokesman Bob Mosier said the school system had no mechanism to track the teaching of the health curriculum, so the superintendent decided not to report fifth-graders as having taken the course.
Elementary schools can earn up to 15 points for a well-rounded curriculum if fifth-graders are enrolled in and complete courses in science, social studies, health, fine arts and physical education. If a school doesn’t offer one of the five classes, the school won’t earn any points. If 80 percent of a school’s students complete all five classes, they can earn 80 percent of the 15 points.
Without getting credit for health classes, Anne Arundel received no credit, or zero of the 15 points.
The county has taken steps to better track the teaching of health, Mosier said, so that next year the elementary schools should earn the 15 extra points in the star rating system.
The county projects that had this issue not occurred, the county would have had 10 five-star schools and 49 four-star schools. No elementary school in the county was rated as a five-star school this year, despite the fact that some of its elementary schools received the highest test scores in the state this year.
Mosier said the problem was “a data tracking issue, not an instructional issue.”
The issue for Anne Arundel may have been repeated in other school systems. At least two Baltimore City schools also failed to earn any points under the “well-rounded curriculum” category.