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Maryland endorses core standards for public schools

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; B05

Maryland on Tuesday became one of the first states to endorse academic standards that are part of a movement to unify reading and math instruction across the nation, a move that would affect every public school student in the state and require new teacher training and standardized tests.

The new common standards for math and reading, developed by a state-led coalition with encouragement from President Obama, are part of national efforts to improve public education. Current standards and tests are a patchwork of varying quality.

The reforms mean that Maryland's 844,000 students would study the same topics in the same year as peers in other states that sign on to the standards. The changes come alongside others that will tie student performance to teacher evaluations and toughen graduation requirements in math and science -- all part of Maryland's effort to win as much as $250 million in federal Race to the Top education grants.

The state "wants to show the folks that are evaluating Race to the Top proposals that we're serious about it," said William Reinhard with the Maryland Department of Education. The state's actions are "tentative," because the final standards are to be released next week. The board plans to approve them next month.

Kentucky is the only other state that has endorsed the standards. The District and every state except Texas and Alaska signed on to the initial effort last year, but some states have wavered about adopting them. The D.C. school system plans to adopt them this summer. Officials in Virginia have said that their current standards are strong and that they do not expect to change them.

The new standards define the skills and knowledge to be taught year by year. A draft released this spring shows that fifth-graders would have to understand metaphors and similes in their English classes; eighth-graders would learn the Pythagorean theorem.

Education, especially standards and curriculum, has long been a state matter, which is partly why the common principles are such a major change. The Obama administration took no part in developing the standards, but it has made adopting them one of the factors in the $4 billion Race to the Top competition.

Only Delaware and Tennessee won money in the first round of the competition. Applications for the second round are due June 1, and Maryland officials say that endorsing the standards now will improve the state's chances.

The new standards wouldn't be in classrooms for at least a year and perhaps longer, Reinhard said, because the curriculum must be developed and teachers trained. The changes would also require revising the Maryland School Assessments, which would happen after the curriculum is finalized, Reinhard said.

Staff writer Nick Anderson contributed to this report.

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