Is the picture painted by local school system really that pretty?

November 14, 2004|by TOM JANUS

Accountability is here to stay, no matter what you label it: No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Maryland State Assessment Program (MSPAP) or Maryland State Assessment (MSA). All states who wish to receive NCLB funds must uphold 10 principles, including: all schools, all students, annual yearly progress determination (AYP), subgroup accountability, separate academic assessments for reading/language arts and mathematics, system validity and reliability, and participation rate.

How these principles are implemented, however, is left up to each individual state. Maryland has devised its Maryland State Assessment and High School Assessment (HAS) in accordance with the Voluntary State Curriculum (VSC). The Maryland AYP goal is to reach 100 percent proficiency for grades 3-8 and grade 10 by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Additionally, Washington County, which funds Washington County Public Schools (WCPS), has its own goals. By the way, does anyone know what the County Commissioners education goals are for funding?


Out of the total WCPS population of 20,807 students, only 76 percent are being measured. Of that number, only 70 percent are proficient. The remainder - 4,743 students - are literally not making the grade. Not only that, the fact that there are no measurement standards for over 5,016 pre-K thru second-grade students (the 24 percent that are not being measured) means we have unspecified results until our children are 8 or 9 years old. If they cannot meet proficiency on their third grade MSA in reading and math, and must, at the same time, strive ahead to meet fourth grade proficiency, aren't we already behind the eight-ball, testwise?

What I still do not see from our WCPS administration and board is a laserlike focus on what needs to be taught, how it will be taught, to whom it will be taught and at what cost in the core reading/language arts and mathematics curricula.

Student Enrollment

During the recent Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) work session that I attended, what I still did not hear is the most disturbing. Never mentioned was that the growth in student enrollment over the past five years has been mainly at the middle and high schools, with the elementary population actually decreasing. Never offered was authentic analysis to backup the contention that future growth will only come in the elementary grades.

No "out-of-the-box" options were generated concerning alternative ways to educate if the growth comes in grades K-3. No challenges to the full-day kindergarten directive were raised. No one suggested providing full-day kindergarten only to students needing extra or individualized attention, or leasing K-3 neighborhood learning centers, or refurbishing the old home store on Northern Avenue. No one offered County Commissioners the flexibility to encourage developers to provide the school building and land so WCPS could lease it back from them, acknowledging the developers' need to profit, locking them into our community for the long term, giving taxpayers a break and minimizing school transportation costs.

Class size assumptions were not even questioned, nor alternative ways of staffing and assigning students. With effective use of instructional assistants directed by the teacher, a class of 30 can succeed. Further, this instructional approach eliminates the $5 million price tag for student achievement specialists, who currently direct the teacher.

Why Washington County Commissioners should accept a CIP of $172 million when the board and Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan have not even attempted to use our tax money effectively is beyond my understanding.

Student Performance

To my mind, the basic mission of a publicly funded school system is reading, math and critical thinking, taught professionally. When someone can demonstrate to me how this will "produce happy, productive, lifelong learners," I will happily add that to the mission statement.

Since the year 2000, our student population has risen 4 percent, inflation has risen 12 percent and school instruction costs have risen 39 percent. 1. How many of us have had our salaries go up 39 percent in the past five years? 2. For what kind of student outcomes have Morgan and her staff convinced this board to hand over dollars at three times the rate of inflation?

There is, of course, no commensurate 39 percent performance increase. If there were, Morgan would be replacing Secretary of Education Rod Paige. In fact, there has been no discernible difference in performance since former Superintendent Herman Bartlett left.

We have that same 70 percent who can pass grade level in reading and math. (The 2004 state AYP standard is lower than our actual performance. But this board and administration want it both ways. When they want to brag about "world class" schools, they trot out the 70 percent figure; when they want more funding, they complain about the 40 percent AYP burden.)

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