When schools reopen in the fall, the college-preparatory International Baccalaureate program will be firmly ensconced in Anne Arundel high schools, but it will not have gained a foothold in the middle schools.
Despite the efforts of Superintendent Eric J. Smith, an IB advocate, the school system did not get the $700,000 it requested from the county to open the IB Middle Years Programme at Annapolis and Old Mill North middle schools. Smith had to settle for expanding IB at Annapolis and Old Mill high schools, where the program is adding one grade level per year and will award its first diplomas in spring 2007.
"The school system simply does not have the money to fund it this year," said Tony Ruffin, school system spokesman.
Introducing the IB program to Anne Arundel middle schools might have sparked some sorely needed academic improvement in those grades, said school board member Eugene Peterson, who supported the idea. Anne Arundel, like much of the state, has struggled to raise the caliber of its middle schools. Lackluster performance on the latest Maryland School Assessment was the latest reminder that Anne Arundel middle schools are in need of inspiring programs.
"Let's be honest: They stink," Peterson said of Anne Arundel's middle schools. "They're an embarrassment."
In a sense, the program was a victim of its own success. So many students applied to begin IB study at both middle and high school levels that cost estimates soared. About 600 students applied to enter IB and pre-IB programs at the four schools in the fall, well beyond the 380 applicants the school system had predicted.
More than half the students who applied at the high schools lived outside the school attendance area, which proved the program's appeal -- and engendered additional cost.
In the end, Smith asked the school board to increase IB program funding by $2 million for fiscal year 2006, four times his original request. The money was to have paid for salaries, training and new bus routes.
Board members approved the increase as part of the 2006 budget, but County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) did not go along.
"We need to evaluate the outcome of this pilot program before moving ahead," Owens said in her May 2 budget address.
The budget is set by Owens and the County Council, not by the school board, so her word was more or less final. Board members elected not to shift funding from another program, a decision they are allowed to make.
Peterson said he was galled to see an opportunity lost to elevate the two middle schools, particularly in the face of so much interest from parents. Many applicants to the IB program were private school students who would have entered the public system.
"We had a lot of very deserving programs," Peterson said. "Should we have Middle Years International Baccalaureate program? In terms of the surge of sign-ups that happened, yeah, I think that program deserves attention."
IB is a course of study modeled on advanced programs in Europe. It is designed to offer students a sequence of courses that, particularly in the junior and senior years, introduce students to college-level work. Earning an IB diploma is somewhat analogous to taking a full load of college-level Advanced Placement courses. Both programs offer grueling end-of-year exams, and a student who earns a good score on either an AP or IB exam typically qualifies for credit and advanced standing in college.
Smith introduced IB into the two Anne Arundel high schools in fall 2003 as part of a countywide push to expand college-level coursework. A successful IB program at either school will elevate its status as a destination for college-bound students. While both Annapolis and Old Mill have strong academics now, they don't rank among the top campuses in the county on such pivotal measures as SAT averages or Maryland High School Assessment pass rates.
Both schools earned formal admission in the spring to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, a prerequisite for offering official IB courses to incoming juniors in fall. All courses offered so far have been "pre-IB" classes taken by freshmen and sophomores.
Expanding the IB program to the middle schools was another of Smith's goals for the 2005-06 academic year. Fairfax and Montgomery are among the Washington area systems that offer the middle-school component of IB, which is more commonly found in high schools. Montgomery schools introduced the IB Middle Years Programme in 2001 to augment an existing IB program at the high school level. Parents are "begging" that their children be admitted to the middle schools that host it, said Marcy Versel, Montgomery County's IB program director.
There's little denying the need for an academic spark in Anne Arundel.
At Annapolis Middle, the shares of eighth-grade students who attained proficiency on the Maryland School Assessment in 2005 were 55 percent in reading and 54 percent in math. Black students as a group performed several points lower.
Middle-school performance gains across Anne Arundel slowed on the statewide test in 2005, in contrast with the steady improvement shown at the elementary and high school levels.
To revive the IB concept in the middle grades next year, Peterson said, the school board needs to "make the case with the County Council that this is an important enough program, that we have to do it."