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State to clarify scoring standards

December 18, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The state Department of Education plans to change the way it reports results for adequate yearly progress after Washington County Public Schools officials disputed how one category appeared to affect the overall results for high schools.

To meet the adequate yearly progress benchmark, schools must achieve established objectives that put them on track to meet 100 percent proficiency standards in reading and math by 2014. Those standards were established under federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Each school in the Washington County Public Schools system individually met the testing standards for adequate yearly progress. But the school system's high schools overall did not hit the mark for reading among special education students, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

What turned out to be a question of interpretation began Nov. 10 when Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan received a letter from the state about the school system's adequate yearly progress. Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen described the letter as "misleading and confusing."

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Washington County Board of Education members were told at a business meeting Nov. 21 that all of the county's schools met adequate yearly progress standards. The overall high schools status was not discussed.

At that meeting, school officials said a second presentation on the topic would be given at a later meeting. Mowen said last week that information was not presented about the school system's systemwide data because officials had questions and were waiting for clarification of that data.

School officials said last week that Gary Heath, assistant state superintendent responsible for accountability and assessment, would attend a January business meeting to explain the data.

Mowen also said information about the subgroup was not included in presentations to the school board or in publicly released information because she was "under the impression that this information has been embargoed" by the state, meaning it was not to be released.

The language

Heath said the school system's statement that all schools met the standards was not wrong or misleading, but it might have been confusing. He said it is possible for each school individually to meet the standard, but for elementary, middle or high school levels to fall short in one area. Under the scoring system used to measure adequate yearly progress, a larger number of students at the system level makes the margin of error smaller, Heath said. Heath and Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the state, said Dec. 11 that Washington County high schools did not make adequate yearly progress at the system level because they failed to hit the special education target.

Mowen and Donna Hanlin, assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, disagreed, saying high schools at the system level failed to meet only one target in one subgroup and that should not affect the high school overall results.

Heath said Dec. 12 that Washington County officials were right, and that high schools systemwide met the standards.

Heath said he had not spoken with anyone in the local school system before changing his interpretation of the data. But Mowen said Heath spoke with Bob Brown, the school system's coordinator of testing and accountability.

When later asked about that conversation, Heath said he could "not remember" whether he had spoken with local school officials regarding the data.

'It's confusing'

Heath and Ron Peiffer, deputy superintendent for the state, said they were working on the language surrounding the standards at the systemwide level because the existing language is "confusing" and "complex."

Heath said a document sent from the state to the county school system might have been inaccurate regarding the testing standards. He also said the state department's Web site was confusing when it showed Washington County's high schools overall had "not met" the standard for adequate yearly progress.

Heath said officials at the state level plan to change the way the data is reported to the public and on its Web site.

"It may not have been as clear as we might have wanted it," Heath said. "When you look at the data, you can get rid of the subjectivity, and any of the politics that may be involved and just look at the data."

He said the data shows that Washington County students are scoring well.

"Compare Washington County to any other school system in the state," he said. "I think those results are fabulous."

Hanlin said although the school system fell short in only one target area, that area is important and officials are working to improve those results.

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