More Md. Elementary, Middle Schools Fall Short of 'No Child' Goals

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

The number of Maryland elementary and middle schools targeted for academic improvement because of consistently low test scores rose this year from 167 to 176, the largest total since the enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind law five years ago.

More than one in seven elementary and middle schools in Maryland are on the expanding watch list of schools deemed in need of improvement, despite steadily rising proficiency on the Maryland School Assessment, the test used by the state to measure academic progress.

One reason, educators said, is that schools must score a bit higher each year to make "adequate yearly progress" and stay off the remedial list. To make adequate progress in reading, for example, Maryland schools had to show 67.2 percent proficiency this year, compared with 62.5 percent last year.

And schools must hit their marks for two consecutive years to earn their way off the list.

"It's a monumental feat to exit school improvement," said John E. Deasy, the Prince George's County superintendent.

Maryland's largest school systems, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, both reported progress in meeting performance targets this year, even with a combined 73 elementary and middle schools on the improvement list. Outside Prince George's, no suburban Maryland county had a school ordered to implement a restructuring plan this year. Restructuring is the most severe remedial step.

Anne Arundel County had six schools on the watch list this year, including the vaunted KIPP Harbor Academy at Annapolis, a charter school. Frederick, Howard and St. Mary's counties each had two on the list. Calvert and Charles counties had none.

Prince George's had 11 schools exit the improvement process, the most of any county, and four schools enter it during a year of dramatic gains on the statewide test. As a result, the number of schools on the watch list shrank from 63 to 56.

"This is probably the best data I could have possibly imagined," Deasy said.

A school that misses proficiency targets for two years enters "school improvement" and goes on the state watch list. Parents at high-poverty schools are entitled to transfer their children to a better-performing campus at that point.

Each year of missed targets moves the school closer to restructuring, which can mean replacing staff members or bringing in other management. Most area schools facing restructuring have chosen to appoint "turnaround specialists," which has been disparaged as "restructuring lite." It can result in few concrete changes, critics say.

Prince George's had the most schools on the improvement list of any county in the Maryland suburbs: 56, or about one-third of the 170 elementary and middle schools in the county. Of 24 Maryland school districts, only Baltimore, with 66 schools on the watch list, had more.

Ten Prince George's schools are in restructuring. Nine of them -- Andrew Jackson, Charles Carroll, G. Gardner Shugart, Nicholas Orem, Stephen Decatur, Thomas Johnson and Thurgood Marshall middle schools and Gaywood and John Eager Howard elementary schools -- have been restructuring for two or more years. One, Arrowhead Elementary, faces restructuring for the first time.

State rules call for schools that are restructuring to replace staff, contract with private managers, convert to charter status or make other "significant changes to staffing and governance," according to the state Education Department. Prince George's school officials said they have used turnaround specialists as part of a support system that includes faculty support teams and before- and after-school programs.

Two P rince George's elementary schools that were facing restructuring, Bladensburg and Overlook, exited the watch list this year, signifying two consecutive years of academic progress.

To make adequate yearly progress under the federal law, a school must meet performance targets in each of eight student "subgroups," including racial minorities, poor students, special-needs students and students of limited English proficiency. Superintendents cite weak performance among two particular subgroups, special education and English for nonnative speakers, as the reason most schools miss their goals. Getting schools off the list involves "very targeted support" to those subgroups over multiple years, Deasy said.

Montgomery educators reported substantial improvement in reaching performance targets: 27 of 38 middle schools made adequate progress, up from 15 last year, as did 124 of 129 elementary schools, up from 116 last year.

"We are extremely pleased with the growth in performance at the middle school level this year and the extraordinary performance of our elementary schools," Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said in a statement.

But progress did not translate to fewer schools on the state watch list: 17 of the county's elementary and middle schools are on this year's list, up from 12 last year.

Only one Montgomery school on the watch list, Shady Grove Middle, made its targets for the second consecutive year and escaped the remedial process. Ten schools that made their targets this year remain on the list because they missed them last year. Other schools landed on the list for the first time.

Only elementary and middle schools were included in yesterday's report; high schools come later in the year, after the release of High School Assessment results. Reports are due from the District on Friday and Virginia next week.

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