Reward 'improving' schools, officials say State doesn't want cash grants to go to prosperous areas


An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun on a reward program for schools demonstrating improvement in state PTC standards carried an incorrect writer's byline. The author was staff writer Mary Maushard.

The Sun regrets the error.

Pub Date: 6/29/96

As Maryland education officials fine-tune a plan to reward top schools with cash, legislators say one thing should be clear: The program must target schools that make a leap in meeting state standards.

School Performance Recognition Awards, created by law this year, were not designed to shower more money on top-ranked schools, which tend to be in more prosperous communities, state legislators said yesterday.


In fact, the legislation was amended to specify that improving, rather than high-scoring, schools would receive the awards, worth as much as $50,000 for middle schools.

"There should be no ambiguity. The major purpose of the bill is only for these schools that make substantial improvement," said Del. John R. Leopold of Anne Arundel County.

The issue arose after guidelines for administering the $2.75 million program came before the Maryland State Board of Education this week.

The guidelines were discussed but delayed for some adjustment.

Meanwhile, officials in the Education Department wavered as to whether the awards would go to the highest-performing or most-improved schools.

Yesterday, some legislators wanted to set the record straight.

When the bill was introduced, it included awards for "schools meeting or exceeding standards" set by the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, they said.

L It was changed to schools showing "substantial improvement."

The money "should be just for those who are making improvement," said Sen. Michael Collins of Baltimore County, who was instrumental in amending the Senate bill.

"The ones that have made it [with high levels of achievement] should get praise" and perhaps a plaque, but not a monetary award, he said.

Now, everyone seems to be on the same page.

State board President Christopher T. Cross said he always understood the program's intent to reward improving schools, and saw nothing in the proposed guidelines to indicate otherwise.

Assistant state Superintendent Mark Moody, who developed the rating formula, said a school's eligibility for the cash awards "is totally independent of the level at which [it is] performing."

Improvement, and improvement sustained over two years, are critical, he said.

Schools that receive the first awards must show "significant improvement" in attendance and test scores from 1993 to 1994 and from 1994 to 1995, he said.

According to the proposal, 102 schools would qualify this year, making the average elementary school grant $23,800 and the average middle school award $33,100.

The number of schools -- and the award amounts -- will change each year, Moody said.

The formula for the awards is the one used to identify schools in danger of state takeover.

It is based on attendance and the results of functional tests and the state performance tests for third- , fifth- and eighth-graders.

Schools that do not meet, or show sufficient progress toward, rigorous state standards 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.

Lawmakers earmarked the award money by approving a plan offered by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The legislation will take effect Oct. 1.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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