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Panel discusses state school reforms

February 28, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

A Maryland panel is pushing for education reforms that include setting up a voluntary statewide curriculum, narrowing the role of school principals and changing the MSPAP tests so they measure individual student performance and prepare them for high school assessments.

Skipp Sanders, deputy state superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education, discussed the reform goals of The Visionary Panel for Better Schools at a forum Wednesday night at Springfield Middle School.

The panel, created by State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, was charged with making recommendations to improve student achievement. About 70 people, mainly Washington County Public Schools educators, attended the forum.

"We're committed to continuous improvement. We know we don't have a perfect system," Sanders said of Maryland's public school system.

A voluntary statewide curriculum for grades kindergarten through 12 would serve as a guide for teachers and principals to meet state achievement standards, Sanders said. It would be the base instruction for every subject and every grade, if approved by the Maryland State Board of Education.

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"It would establish a floor" on which systems could build, Sanders said.

The panel's report calls for removing administrative duties from school principals, giving them more time to focus on being instructional leaders, which could entail visiting classrooms and designing professional development programs for teachers.

"There's way too much on the principal's plate," Sanders said.

Schools would hire building managers to oversee paperwork, pay the bills and maintain the facility, he said.

The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), which measures the performance of schools rather than individual students, would also need an overhaul to properly prepare students for the High School Assessments.

The High School Assessments are a series of tests in various subjects that students take as they complete the appropriate course work.

This school year was the first that the tests have been administered. Beginning in 2003 students entering ninth-grade will be required to pass the assessments to graduate.

The MSPAP tests, which are given annually in third, fifth, and eighth grades would have to be changed to measure individual student performance, Sanders said.

That would allow schools to gauge achievement levels of younger students and take the steps each child needs in order to pass the High School Assessments.

"That's going to be a daunting task," Sanders said. "We're still very muddy about how we're going to get there. We're only just beginning.

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