State schools plan wins approval

U.S. requires system to ensure accountability

No Child Left Behind Act

April 02, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Maryland yesterday became the seventh state to win federal approval for a plan to hold schools accountable for student performance, as required under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige made the announcement during a visit to Hillsmere Elementary School in Annapolis, a high-poverty school that made gains in reading assessments after Anne Arundel County officials singled it out years ago for low test scores.

"We've done a great job in this nation in educating some of our children, but we are interested in educating all of our children," Paige told an audience of educators and children as he stood against a wall plastered with pupils' colorful drawings.

Maryland and other states earlier this year submitted accountability plans to show they will require the same academic standards of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as they do students from groups that traditionally do well.

A key part of the federal law is the goal of making all children proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Each plan must show how a state intends to track the improvement of students grouped by race, poverty, lack of English proficiency and special education needs - rather than just the overall performance of a school - and set consequences for schools that fail to meet standards.

The accountability plans are a component of the education reform law, which aims to close achievement gaps between groups of students.

The law also requires that teachers be well-trained and parents be given the choice to remove their children from inadequate schools.

Paige praised Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who last year overhauled the state's testing system so that it produces individual student scores instead of only schoolwide averages.

The secretary said Maryland was one of the first states to "reorganize its entire accountability system," at a time when every state is grappling with how to follow the federal guidelines for education reform.

"It's a message to all of us that this is a completely doable deal," Paige said.

Grasmick beamed and kissed Paige on the cheek as he handed her a letter confirming that the state has joined Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, New York and Mississippi in receiving approval for the plan. The remaining states' plans are in various stages of review and revision.

"I'm totally thrilled," Grasmick said after the ceremony. The next step, she said, will be for the state to determine what it means to be "proficient" in reading and math.

That will happen this summer, when officials analyze the results of the first Maryland School Assessment - the state's new test, administered for the first time last month - and decide what scores represent basic, proficient and advanced skills.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and Anne Arundel County officials also attended yesterday's ceremony and joined Paige in visiting classrooms and interacting with pupils.

Among the major components of Maryland's accountability plan:

Every school must demonstrate "adequate yearly progress" in 19 categories, including the math and reading performances of five racial groups - white, black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American - as well as low-income, special education and students whose native languages are not English.

Schools that do not make progress in at least one category will be singled out, and those that fail to meet achievement targets will be subject to penalties and state oversight.

All schools must meet goals set by the state every three years, which are expressed in the percentage of proficient students, between now and 2014.

The push toward statewide proficiency must include severely disabled children and students in juvenile correctional institutions and schools for the deaf and blind.

Officials in some states are worried that the federal government's stringent demands will cause large numbers of schools to be deemed inadequate.

But Grasmick said she doesn't share those concerns.

"We think it's kind of a waste of time to predict which schools aren't going to make it," the superintendent said. "We think [schools] are going to double their efforts to meet the requirements."

One of the most valuable aspects of the new accountability plan, Grasmick said, is that educators will be forced to confront problems facing specific groups of students.

"No children will be hidden behind the averages for each school," she said.

Hillsmere Principal Raymond Bibeault said he is looking forward to being evaluated on the state's new terms. "It's going to be very valuable information for us," he said. "We see it really as, hopefully, a validation that we are doing well."

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