School system sets new goals in achievement

3 main objectives noted in aggressive approach

`We have to keep getting better'

By 2004, officials want all schools at state standard

Howard County

November 25, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Howard County education officials announced aggressive new achievement goals last night during a board meeting that drew nearly a dozen local politicians, including County Executive James N. Robey.

"The consequences of contentment are much, much too great," Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham said while presenting the "state of the school system report," which outlined the targets. "We have to keep getting better."

Among Howard's goals are three main objectives:

By next year, every school and student group would meet "adequate yearly progress" standards set by the state. This year, two schools fell short: Deep Run Elementary and Howard High.

By 2005, all schools will have 70 percent of their students performing proficiently on the math and reading portions of the Maryland School Assessment.

By 2007, each student group - of varying races, economic levels, English fluency and learning abilities - will have 70 percent of its children performing proficiently.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that every child be capable in reading and math by 2014.

Many states and school systems have set relatively low annual goals in an effort to inch toward the objective.

But Howard, whose students outperformed all others on most tests in Maryland last year, is on a mission to "get there quicker," Statham said.

"We can't have our schools shooting for a target that's lower - way lower - than where they're performing," added Leslie Wilson, the school system's director of student assessment.

"I'm excited; you've got to be excited about this," Robey said, adding that as the provider of the multimillion-dollar school system budget he gets "a lot of pressure from people who say, `Do we have to be that good? Can't we accept a lesser standard?' I say, `No!' "

But Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat, worried that the goals might be unreasonable for some children.

"They're attainable," Statham assured her, particularly with the extra time and help the system will make available.

"Children are more likely to be hurt by lower expectations than higher expectations," said Superintendent John R. O'Rourke.

The county has seen results from efforts developed through its Comprehensive Plan for Accelerated Achievement, unveiled in March last year.

The student-support plans, which are specific improvement outlines for individual children, in particular are showing signs of success.

Value of support plans

More than 40 percent of students - 1,050 children - who had support plans in place for at least a year are on grade level in reading or math.

"Our efforts are definitely paying off," said Assistant Superintendent Robert O. Glascock.

But the system also is trying to step outside the classroom and involve the community, through partnerships with faith-based organizations, businesses and parental outreach.

"We must go beyond the school walls," said Diane Martin, director of the Office of Student, Family and Community Services.

Other school system targets include:

Having a minimum student enrollment of 15 percent in elementary gifted math programs, which nine schools have yet to do.

Having a minimum middle school attendance rate of 96 percent, which six of the 18 schools meet.

Having a minimum of 80 percent of students taking the SAT. Seven of 10 high schools do not meet the mark.

Having at least 10 percent minority staffing in all schools, which 19 schools have not done.

Problems in staffing

Staffing has been a problem for the school system, which hired 418 teachers this year, as it has been for the rest of the country, as young people opt away from the profession for better-paying jobs.

Retention rates for new teachers also are discouraging, said Mamie Perkins, director of human resources for the school system.

About a quarter of second-year teachers in Howard don't stick around for year three. The school system has pledged to cut that number in half by next year.

"We need to seize the opportunity," Robey said. "I just have to do my very best to find the resources to help make that happen."

The full report is available online at www.hcpss.org.

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