Schools toughen promote policy

Board votes to use national test scores as passing requirement

January 23, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board set a minimum score on a national test last night as a requirement for children to be promoted from one grade to the next in elementary and middle school.

School officials had presented the board with several other options as they sought to "clarify" the policy and prevent the confusion that led to wrongful promotions of scores of children last year.

What was adopted last night is stronger than the alternatives considered in recent weeks.

Chief Academic Officer Cassandra W. Jones referred to the changes as "clarification." But the national Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills that the school board voted to use has never been part of the city system's written promotion policy, passed in 1999 as a way of raising standards.

In addition to getting a passing grade of at least 60 in math and reading, elementary children will have to score at or above the 23rd percentile on the CTBS - which Jones called a "little below" grade level.

Under the revised policy, 70 percent of a student's classroom report card grade will be based on classwork and homework, while 30 percent will be the score on quarterly curriculum-based assessments.

Principals will have some say in whether a child is promoted in the case of "extenuating circumstances."

Last school year, children had to earn passing grades in reading and math and score at least 70 percent on the curriculum assessments. The CTBS was not used across the board as a promotion standard.

The issue last night was which of the two tests - the curriculum assessments or the national CTBS - the board would decide to use, in addition to classwork grades. Now, both will be employed.

Jones said the revised policy represented an effort to clarify for parents, teachers and principals what measures would be used to promote children.

Mary E. Yakimowski, the school system's research, evaluation and accountability officer, said that if the revised policy had been applied last year, between 23 percent and 34 percent of children in grades one through five would not have passed in reading. Between 25 percent and 37 percent would not have passed in math.

The CTBS will also be used as a promotion tool in middle schools. Sixth- through eighth-graders will have to earn a passing grade of at least 60 in math, English, science and social studies as well as meet a similar standard on the CTBS. Eighth-graders will also have to pass the state's functional exams in reading, writing and math to get to high school.

C. William Struever, board vice chairman, abstained on votes to change the elementary and middle school standards, saying he had questions about the number of children who would be affected and the effectiveness of the system's interventions to help them.

Last summer, the promotion policy was to take effect for all pupils in grades one through eight. But the school system has acknowledged that it was applied "inconsistently" because of confusion over the standards. Some principals passed children who had failed math although a passing grade was required in both reading and math.

The school system is also considering changes in the promotion standards for the 2002-2003 school year. A public forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Polytechnic Institute to discuss those changes.

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