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Confusing assessment

Official says the county's high schools as a group did not make adequate yearly progress

Official says the county's high schools as a group did not make adequate yearly progress

January 24, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - A state official on Tuesday told the Washington County Board of Education that the school system is performing better than most across the state.

He also contradicted information he gave to The Herald-Mail in December regarding the school system's overall status in one recording area.

Gary Heath, assistant state superintendent for the division of accountability and assessment, was asked to give a presentation about adequate yearly progress and the status of the county public school system during the business meeting. The presentation was a follow-up to a November report by school system staff that declared all schools individually met adequate yearly progress standards.

The school system overall failed to meet only one mark, for reading among special-education high school students.

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.

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After his presentation to the board Tuesday, Heath said that Washington County's public high schools as a group did not make adequate yearly progress based on failure to meet the mark among the special-education subgroup.

Heath refused to say why the statement contradicted one he made to The Herald-Mail in December. At that time, he said the school system met adequate yearly progress standards at the high school level.

Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said she could not comment on whether she agreed with Heath's assessment.

"I heard something different in his presentation," Board Vice President Wayne D. Ridenour said. "I don't know now what to believe."

He said he did not want a shortcoming in one area to override the overall positive results from teachers and students in the county.

Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said that under an old definition being used by the state, the school system did not meet adequate yearly progress, but under the new definition it did.

"At the system level, I don't see any problem top to bottom," Heath said. "You're doing really well. There's not more than two or three school systems in the state doing better."

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said she was pleased that Heath came to the meeting and allowed board members and the public to ask questions regarding adequate yearly progress, which has been an area of confusion.

Many of the questions Heath answered during the presentation came from Bob Brady, a parent of two Washington County Public Schools students. Brady presented at least two packets of information to Heath and board members with data and questions.

One question was how more students can be given credit for passing the Maryland School Assessment than actually did. An example given was at Western Heights Middle School where, in special education reading, 29 of the 87 students passed the test, according to Brady. The final adequate yearly progress results show that 40 students were given credit for passing the test.

Heath said that happens because, in the special education subgroup, officials are able to appeal those results.

"If a student is eligible, we will statistically change their score from basic to proficient," he said.

That decision is made during the appeals process for students in the special education subgroup.

"Given the rules by which we're playing, we're winners at it," Morgan said.

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