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Text of Maryland superintendents’ document on school reform

maryland-mapHere is the text of a document approved by 22 of Maryland’s 24 local schools superintendents expressing concern about how federal and state officials are forcing school districts to implement specific school reforms. You can read more about the document and why the superintendents, through the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, decided to make public their concerns in this post.

And here’s the full text of the document:

Parents, elected officials, community leaders, and pundits are reacting sometimes with alarm as local school systems throughout the state deal with the challenges of implementing the many components of education reform.  New curriculum in Math and English Language Arts, new assessments, new teacher evaluations, and new school accountability measures are being implemented simultaneously in Maryland schools to fulfill commitments associated with federal grant programs from the United States Department of Education (USDE).  As one might imagine with such change of this magnitude, educators, including teachers and administrators, are feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Superintendents are proud of Maryland’s number one ranking and generally support Maryland’s needed educational reform efforts.  However, from the outset, superintendents consistently advocated for a common sense and logical timeline to achieve a successful transition for all 850,000 public school students’ preparation to successfully compete in the 21st Century.  It is imperative that in the future our students become positive contributors to our society.  This objective can only happen by providing our students with the knowledge and skill necessary to be globally competitive.

Superintendents caution however, that simply addressing perceived deficiencies with public education in the United States, and in our case, Maryland, by prescribing or requiring new standards and new assessments tied to educator evaluations, is failing to acknowledge the crisis associated with students who live in poverty.  Research clearly shows that the gap between students who live above and below the poverty line has grown and is projected to grow wider.  Those who believe in the “silver bullet” approach to rectify a perceived fault fail to realize that the real issue remains much more complex and difficult to resolve.

Questions related to this educational reform have been much debated in our communities over the last several months.  Superintendents have been discussing and preparing for this education reform transition for several years and have reached agreement on the following:

–          Why Common Core Standards?

  • These standards represent years of planning and innovation.  The best minds from the classroom, subject matter experts and education and organization leadership worked collaboratively to create these guidelines.
  • The standards are not curricula, but require each local school system to significantly adjust curriculum and instruction to create a more rigorous path through pre-kindergarten to grade twelve for all students – not just the academically inclined.

–          Why give the Maryland School Assessments (MSA) when this student performance measure is not aligned with the curricula associated with the Common Core Standards?

  • Superintendents would rather not administer these assessments (MSA) so total concentration could be on the alignment of revised curricula assessed by new tests (PARCC).  Superintendents question the validity of continuing to administer the MSA while training teachers to implement new non-aligned curricula.
  • Leadership at the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has stated that it is a Federal Government requirement that the MSA administration take place; but has assured school system leaders that this March 2014 administration is absolutely the last of MSA.
  • Accordingly, superintendents are preparing to administer the MSA one last time so that full concentration can focus on the common core aligned curricula and PARCC assessments.

–          Are school systems prepared to implement the new assessments aligned with the Common Core Standards?

  • The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is creating field tests for these new assessments.
  • Field testing of the PARCC assessments will take place in every public school throughout Maryland in the spring of 2014.
  • Each school system is currently assessing district readiness to fully implement online testing in 2014-2015.  Serious concerns exist associated with the technological capacity within each school system to administer PARCC when fully implemented.
  • Superintendents have asked for as many PARCC testing slots as possible to assist local educators in understanding the transition impact.
  • Superintendents are asking for additional time and resource from both the USDE and MSDE to ensure the successful implementation of the PARCC Assessment schedule.

–          Will the new teacher/principal evaluation model achieve the improvement in building leadership and instruction that is proposed?

  • Superintendents agree that student performance should be a component of determining educator effectiveness.  However, research in this area is mixed and a strict quantification of all elements in the appraisal process might prove to be counterproductive.
  • Superintendents agree that the most significant use of student performance data is to provide teachers with information needed to improve classroom instruction and to address the specific learning needs of  individual students.
  • Superintendents understand that student achievement data provided by the PARCC tests will not be of real use in regard to personnel evaluations until several years of assessment data are collected and a trend analysis completed.
  • Superintendents believe that supporting local autonomy in the creation and implementation of local personnel evaluation models based upon adopted statewide criteria is the most efficient and effective strategy to determine teacher effectiveness.

One significant reminder offered by superintendents is that all twenty-four school systems are not blessed with the same fiscal and human resource capacity to achieve the successful implementation of this reform to the same degree of fidelity within the same time period.  Therefore, superintendents have requested flexibility within the stated implementation timeline so that all school systems can successfully implement all of the education reform components.

As a result of the information shared in this document, 22 of the state’s 24 local school system superintendents ask the following:

1)      Why is the United States Department of Education (USDE) requiring Maryland to administer a state assessment that is not aligned to the Common Core Standards, a key component of education reform endorsed by the USDE?  It appears to be counterintuitive.  Why would the USDE by its actions not encourage Maryland school systems to focus totally on implementing new curricula aligned with the Common Core measuring student performance and growth in this interim time period through the use of the PARCC field test and local school system assessments?

2)      In regard to the teacher/principal evaluation process, all associated entities will defer to the language in Maryland state law and support local school system leaders along with teacher association representatives to determine through mutual agreement the specific evaluation components, including student achievement performance data, and the relationship of the components within a local evaluation model.

3)      Decisions regarding the use of student performance data from PARCC assessments, other than for school improvement purposes, be delayed until such time that the results provide valid and reliable data.

The  local school system superintendents of Maryland are fully committed to ensure high quality education programs for all Maryland students.  The required changes to achieve this critical goal must be approached in a logical, common sense manner.

Carl D. Roberts, Ed. D.

Executive Director