State to give cash rewards to top schools Selection method, timetable still to be decided by board

$2.75 million allocated

Incentives expected to boost performance, attendance levels

June 27, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Schools in Maryland will soon be getting paid for good report cards.

Elementary and middle schools that show the most improvement based on state standards will share $2.75 million, beginning in October, according to a plan being developed by the state Board of Education.

How many schools will be rewarded and how they will be chosen have not been settled. The state board this week considered guidelines and timelines for handing out the money -- which could bring tens of thousands of dollars to individual schools -- but has postponed a decision until next month to allow fine-tuning.

"I think it's a positive thing because the idea is that schools and school systems show improvement. It's a carrot that will be an incentive for a job well done," said Leo Lawson, acting director of finance and administration for Somerset County schools.

Until now, the state has used a stick -- threatening to take over poorly performing schools in Baltimore and other areas.

Schools that do not meet, and do not show sufficient progress toward, the rigorous state standards set through the Maryland School Performance Program must initiate major improvements to avoid a takeover. This year, for example, the state required reform plans from 35 schools in Baltimore, and one each in Somerset and Anne Arundel counties.

The legislature earmarked the positive reinforcement dollars during the last General Assembly session, when it approved Gov. Parris N. Glendening's School Performance Recognition Awards.

That legislation will go into effect Oct. 1.

The first performance awards would be based on the 1995 Maryland School Performance Report, which covers tests and achievements of the 1994-1995 school year and was released in December. After the first year, awards will be made each February, according to the proposed guidelines.

Attendance levels and test scores are expected to be the crucial criteria in establishing a School Performance Index for every school. Scores from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, administered to all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders each May, will be used, as well as functional test scores given to middle-schoolers.

According to the proposal before the board this week, 102 schools would receive awards ranging from $14,400 to $50,100 for their achievements.

The average elementary school award would be $23,800, and the average middle school prize would total $33,100.

State Education Department officials, however, were undecided on whether the cash awards would go to schools with the highest test scores or to those that had shown the most improvement, even if their test scores were not among the top 102.

Renee Spence, the Education Department's legislative liaison, said school officials are considering extending the awards to more schools, either by decreasing the amounts given to each school or by creating honorary awards that would not carry cash prizes. In the latter case, schools that received money one year would not be eligible the next year.

Schools will not be able to use the award money for "staff bonuses or differential pay increases" or to replace federal, state or local funds regularly allotted to them, according to the legislation.

Otherwise, the money will be given to the school improvement team, which will decide how to spend it.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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