Schools urged to speed up review

Parents criticize pace of reform assessment

August 12, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

Parents are questioning why Harford County school administrators took longer than expected to begin reviewing high school reforms that went into effect last fall.

As part of sweeping changes to Harford County high schools, the public school system instituted a Comprehensive Secondary School Reform Plan. One of the most contentious aspects of the plan was that all nine Harford County high schools adopt the block schedule.

With a block schedule, students have a four-period day, with each period lasting 90 minutes. Students take eight courses every year; some classes meet daily for a semester, while others meet every other day.

When the board approved the reforms in 2005, it agreed to have an independent firm review the data after the first year the plan was implemented.

"By the end of the first year, hire an outside firm to review and document the impact and range of outcomes resulting from CSSRP," according to the document in which the county Board of Education outlined the process to evaluate the reforms.

The document states that the data would be collected in July.

This month, the school system hired three researchers from Towson University to review the plan.

In a Board of Education work session last week, Gerald Scarborough, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, presented the timeline for the review. Scarborough told board members that the school system is waiting for data, such as the high school assessment results that are expected this week.

The researchers will assemble a focus group at each high school consisting of parents, faculty members, students, administrators and other staff members about the high school reforms, Scarborough said. A final report is expected in April.

"In the best world, we could've gotten it a little earlier," Scarborough said.

County Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, who frequently attends Board of Education meetings, said a prompt review of the high school reforms would be better for students.

"We're going to subject two years of high school students to this before any review," Slutzky said. "We'll have four years of students that will be exposed to a system that is of dubious merit, and they'll have to withstand this for their entire high school career before any process."

Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said research takes time.

"We can run the report to find out about teacher's schedules, class sizes," Haas said. "But the interpretation and actual meaning in the teachers' and students' feelings have to come from the focus groups that go on at each individual school."

Some parents, including a few board members, worry that longer class periods are not used fully and that students are doing homework in class instead of getting more teaching time.

Ann Vogt said her son, a senior at Bel Air High School, has a mixed review of the block schedule. Vogt, an operations research analyst, expressed confusion over why the review would take so long.

"Some of the data that you'd want to collect was on my son's report card," she said. "He has gotten his grades in each class, his midterm exams, his final exam grade. That's available. I think graduation rates are available."

Mallory Vogel, a senior at C. Milton Wright High School, said the block schedule was conducive to completing lab work in science classes.

But Vogel said it was difficult with her Advanced Placement U.S. history course. She said she had tests every time the class met and too many reading assignments to keep up with, so she decided not to take the AP exam in May.

"It was harder to pay attention because the classes were so long," Vogel said. "I was more stressed this year."

Cindy Mumby, president of the Bel Air High School PTSA, accused the school administration of dawdling on collecting data.

"Don't you think that if the hard data showed improved student achievement, that data would likely have been on your desk months ago?" Mumby asked school board members. "What you are getting is a strategy of rope-a-dope."

Board member Ruth Rich urged parents to see the bigger picture.

"This is not just about the schedule," Rich said. "I would ask that those members of the public who are absolutely dead set against something to see if we can work together to create a future."

Board member John Smilko said he wanted hard data.

"I feel like I'm flying blind right now," he said. "I agree with Ms. Rich's comments about stepping back and looking at the big picture. I want to make sure we haven't leapt off the cliff. "

Slutzky expressed doubt that it would take the school administration and independent reviews until next spring to pool data.

"That data is available. Why does anyone think it takes months to pull that together?" he asked.

madison.park@baltsun.com

SCHOOL REFORMS

The Comprehensive Secondary School Reform Plan includes the following for Harford County high schools:

All schools are to offer the same number of credits.

High schools require 26 credits to graduate.

High schools are to have smaller learning communities that cluster students based on their interests, such as technology, childhood development, writing.

All students are required to take a fourth math credit during their high school career.

Schools will develop additional off-campus education opportunities such as online courses and classes at a community college.

Programs and opportunities should be consistent across all high schools.

Programs of study such as career clusters and magnet programs are to be created.

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