80% of Maryland Elementary Schools Drop from Top Ranking

A number of Maryland schools saw their top ratings decline this year after the state adopted a more rigorous school ranking system. Liz Bowie of The Baltimore Sun reports that fewer than 50 elementary schools throughout the state were classified as "Strand 1," while more than 250 received the equivalent grade last year.

Schools that only 12 months ago were touted as being among the best in the state by their district will now have explain their tumble to parents. Among middle schools, the fall is even steeper, as only 3 out of 230 schools met all the requirements set out by the new system.

The state also saw a nearly tenfold increase in the number of elementary schools ranked in the worst category.

State officials said parents shouldn't worry.

"The sky is not falling on Maryland education," said Jack Smith, chief academic officer for the Maryland Department of Education.

The decrease in performance across the state from last year is the result, in part, in the drop in statewide test scores. The drop has been attributed to a change in curriculum, which began last year and is fully in place this academic year.

The new assessment calculator was adopted as part of the requirements set out by the federal government as conditions for granting Maryland a waiver from No Child Left Behind Act. In a provision that is sure to confuse parents and other district residents, the system not only uses standardized test results as a metric, but also looks at student performance gains from year to year. However while the new grades might sting the pride of the schools that only last year were at the top of the academic heap, at least the lower grades won't trigger automatic punitive budget cuts and staff reshuffling as they would have done under NCLB.

In many elementary schools in the state, 95 percent of children are passing state tests, so it is difficult for the schools to improve further. Therefore, a school that has a lower percentage of students passing but made good progress from last year might be rated higher than the perennial top performers.

In some cases, Smith said, the highest-performing schools might have trouble raising achievement of special education students or those learning English as a second language. The new system shines a light, he said, on those kinds of differences.

"We have worked hard to come up with a new way of looking at it that reflects the complexity of the children we serve," Smith said.

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