The Howard and Frederick county school systems scored slightly higher than Montgomery County under a new Maryland accountability system that will track an individual school’s progress against its own prior performance.

The new state system takes into account each school’s benchmarks on overall student performance, student growth, closing the achievement gap and preparing students for college and careers. Closing the achievement gap — the disparity between white and Asian students on average outperforming black and Hispanic students — is weighted more than any other category.

Schools and districts with a ratio of 1.0 or higher met the new system’s performance targets. For the counties, Frederick earned a score of 1.056, Howard finished with a 1.037 and Montgomery received a 1.014. Prince George’s had an overall student progress index of 0.953, just below the state’s average score of 0.975.

The data, which the Maryland State Department of Education released Monday, comes from the School Progress Index, which is permitted under new federal rules that allow states to create their own ways to measure progress in public schools. Maryland is one of 34 states, including Virginia, that have received a waiver from provisions of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law. The District also has a waiver.

Progress on closing the achievement gap was weighed at 40 percent of the total score. While Montgomery exceeded the targets for student performance and growth for elementary students — and student performance and college and career readiness for high school students — its progress on closing the gap was at 0.969 for elementary students and 0.967 for high school students.

Each school under the new system has specific academic goals, also known as Annual Measurable Objectives, which the state department of education assigns.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery described the new system as a “sea change,” one designed to promote academic improvements in every school across the state. Information is provided for each school, which allows students, teachers and leaders to examine the data and compete against themselves, not other schools.

“We must resist the temptation of being satisfied with the status quo, even at our best schools,” Lowery said. “Our job is to peel back the layers, celebrate where we are succeeding and take action where the news isn’t quite so good.”

Montgomery Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said the new system is an improvement over the previous accountability formula under No Child Left Behind, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). But he expressed concern about the index’s continued reliance on standardized test scores.

“The School Progress Index has the same weaknesses as many previous accountability schemes — it relies too much on standardized tests to place inaccurate labels on schools,” Starr said in a statement. “I appreciate what the Maryland State Department of Education is attempting to do. However, what’s not clear to me is the purpose of this approach to accountability.”

Starr said the school system will take a closer look at the data and comply with the requirements of the new system.

“The data, itself is instructive and reinforces the need to re-
energize our efforts to narrow achievement gaps across the district,” Starr said. “I’m just concerned about how the data is being used.”

Duane Arbogast, acting deputy superintendent in Prince George’s County, said he appreciates that the new system allows schools to measure their own progress independently: “Every school has different targets that are personalized to that school.”

State officials said they plan to use the data to place schools into “strands,” categories that organize schools for recognition, support or possible intervention.

Under the waiver, the yardstick for every school is set against its own ability to halve the number of non-proficient students in five years.