The Montgomery County school board, in an effort to establish general educational guidelines similar to those in its senior high school policy, has adopted a set of standards for its elementary and intermediate schools.
The eight-page document, completed after eight months of review and strident debate over a number of amendments, covers nearly every aspect of education, from the frequency of homework assignments to programs for students with special needs.
Although the final document passed easily on a 5-to-1 vote, the two board members who did not support the final version of the policy said it was critically marred by the board's conservative majority.
"The school board has turned this policy into a mess. This has become a half-baked grab bag," said board member Blair Ewing, who voted against the policy. Republican board member Elizabeth Spencer, who recently announced her decision to fight colleague Marian Greenblatt for the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Congressman Michael Barnes in the November elections, abstained from the final vote, citing a different reason.
"What this board has adopted is not a policy but a set of regulations," said Spencer, echoing a complaint several candidates for this fall's school board elections have raised as an issue.
Those claims were dismissed by those in the board majority, who said they were only adding refinements and eliminating weaknesses in the policy.
In its final version the policy outlines several purposes and goals, indicating that administrators should be aware of a variety of methods for successfully educating children.
In the area of instruction, the policy states that grouping students by demonstrated ability and achievement "is strongly recommended," but adds that "no grouping plan should be static" and that it always should increase students' opportunity.
The policy also states that promotion and retention of students is to be based on academic achievement and that any promotions of students who are not performing at their grade level must be justified by the school principal to the area associate superintendent.
Under the policy's guidelines, homework is to be required three to five times a week and "every effort is to be made . . . to close the gap between students' potential and their actual performance." The policy also instructs all teachers to "focus on problem solving, critical thinking, analysis and synthesis skills."
One disputed amendment involved a proposal by board member Greenblatt to identify highly successful schools through a yearly review of standardized test scores. Greenblatt's proposal was softened to say that test scores are not to be the sole indicators of a school's success. Later, member Joseph Barse successfully added another amendment that called for developing additional indicators of schools' effectiveness that would be added to the kindergarten through eighth grade policy later.
Greenblatt's call for use of test scores to measure a school's success was similar to an argument she proferred as one reason Rosemary Hills Elementary School should be closed. Greenblatt had said that minority students at Rosemary Hills tested below the average for minority children in the county. But the state board, in overturning the Montgomery board's decision to close Rosemary Hills, concluded that "one cannot appropriately compare test scores without taking account of the disadvantages a given group of children bring to a given school."