Five city schools slated for overhauls if test scores do not climb

As schools are forced into improvement plans, school leaders express concern about future upheavals under No Child Left Behind

March 09, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Five Baltimore City schools are taking Maryland School Assessments this week with hopes of not only increasing their scores, but raising them enough to meet federally mandated achievement targets that will save the jobs of teachers and staff next year.

The city school board approved recommendations Tuesday that would replace staff at schools that don't meet achievement targets on standardized tests this year, a measure that led to an intense debate about school upheavals spurred by targets that many education officials say are becoming more unattainable every year.

The schools that have been recommended for staff shakeups, called alternative governance plans, failed for five years in a row to make adequate yearly progress targets set by the state and required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

If the schools recommended for alternative governance plans fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, on this year's Maryland School Assessments — which students began taking Tuesday — the plans to overhaul their staffs will be implemented in the coming school year. Results of the assessments will be available this summer.

The schools recommended for the improvement plans are: City Springs Elementary/Middle, The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary, Furman L. Templeton Elementary, Glenmount Elementary/Middle School and ConneXions Community Academy Middle/High School.

Additionally, Patterson High School, which is undergoing an internal overhaul because of low performance, received an additional improvement measure requiring it to replace some of its staff.

"When schools fail to meet objectives, it triggers a set of responses, whether we like it or not," said city schools CEO Andrés Alonso. "Because sometimes we confuse not making [adequate yearly progress] with not making progress. It's very flawed."

The district recommended that all but one of the schools plan for a "strategic replacement of staff who are relevant to the school's inability to make adequate progress," which can include principals. Furman L. Templeton was recommended to reopen as a charter school.

AYP targets are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law passed in 2001 that requires 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Proficiency is measured by standardized tests, and the proficiency targets rise every year. An attempt to overhaul NCLB is under way in Congress, as federal leaders anticipate that the percentage of schools that fail to make the targets will rise every year until 2014.

For the first time, two charter schools, City Springs and ConneXions Community, were on the list for alternative governance options in Baltimore, city school officials said.

But City Springs, a public charter school in East Baltimore that has made huge leaps in achievement and climate — it raised its pass rates in math from 34 percent to 64 percent in five years — was the cornerstone of an intense debate about the climate in the district, as academic targets become harder to reach and more schools will be subjected to upheavals.

City school board member David Stone said the district should reject the $133 million — about 13 percent of the district's budget — it receives from the federal government in order to exempt itself from being held accountable for unrealistic outcomes. "This has gotten crazy, and it's only going to get worse," Stone said. "We need to stand up against a system that gives little and asks much."

Other members said they fear that the pressure in schools will affect teaching and learning.

"I bet that this affects the climate in the schools because it's a very intrusive process," said Maxine Wood, a member of the city's school board. "The potential for success is going to be diminished because teachers and staff are worried about what's going to happen to them at the end of the year."

Muriel Berkeley, president of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, which operates City Springs, said the school board debate was encouraging. She said that while the school's alternative governance plan has "led to great consternation on the faculty" at City Springs, she believed that the board was going in the right direction.

"I was encouraged that maybe as a community, we're going to take on this issue and make sure what we're doing is best for kids — instead of basing so many decisions on one set of test scores," she said.

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