Education Panel Urges New School Measuring Benchmarks

By Tom Stuckey
The Associated Press
Monday, June 13, 2005; 2:32 PM

ANNAPOLIS -- A new "value added" way of measuring schools that takes into account factors such as the financial, ethnic and racial backgrounds of students when determining how well schools are educating students is likely to be a major focus of recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Quality Education in Maryland.

"That really is going to be the lynchpin to everything we do," Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, chairman of the commission, said Friday at a meeting of the group appointed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich to look for ways to make sure that the money given by the state to public schools is well spent.

A recommendation to devise a better way to measure school performance was included in one of four subcommittees reports given to the commission at its final meeting.

Steele and the commission staff will work with subcommittee chairmen to develop a final set of recommendations for Ehrlich, Steele said. The governor will then decide what needs to be done, what he can do through regulation or executive order and what will require legislative approval, Steele said.

The value added approach is an attempt to recognize the efforts of teachers and administrators in schools where many students from poor backgrounds do not enter school as well prepared to learn as those from more affluent districts. The idea is not new, having been tried to some extent in four states, Robert Kemmery, executive director of the commission, said.

While schools in high poverty areas have a tougher job, said subcommittee chairman William E. Brock, 5,000 schools with more than 50 percent of students living in poverty are among the top 10 percent of schools nationwide. His subcommittee recommended that the state look at the programs that have worked nationwide and apply them in Maryland.

Steele said a second important goal would be to track students from the day a child begins school.

"We will be able to watch and monitor his progress over his entire academic career," the lieutenant governor said. Schools could more quickly respond when students began to slip backward or begin to progress more rapidly, tailoring individual programs to their needs, Steele said.

Among other recommendations from the subcommittee:

--Expand choices for parents, including strengthening the state's charter school law, perhaps giving colleges and universities authority to issue charters for public schools that operate independently, free of regulation by county school boards.

--Provide more in-school training for inexperienced teachers, turning schools into learning centers for teachers as well as students.

--Reduce barriers to teacher certification and make it easier for people with other careers to move into teaching.

--Improve pre-kindergarten education so more students enter school ready to learn.

--Encourage more parental involvement in schools, including requiring schools that are failing or in need of progress to have school assistance teams that would include parents, business leaders and military leaders as part of their improvement plans.

© 2005 The Associated Press