Schools want to see stars

MSDE rat­ings didn’t give credit where credit was due, board mem­ber says

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­[email protected]­news.com

There’s a chance that the St. Mary’s pub­lic schools’ star rat­ings don’t nec­es­sar­ily re­flect what is hap­pen­ing at each school site.

Af­ter the Mary­land State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­leased the star rat­ings on­line ear­lier this month, St. Mary’s school ad­min­is­tra­tors are now sift­ing through how points were awarded or de­ducted in cat­e­gories like chronic absenteeism and other fac­tors used for the rat­ing, as dis­cussed at the Dec. 12 school board meet­ing.

Five of St. Mary’s pub­lic schools earned five out a pos­si­ble five stars, four sites

earned three and the rest earned four stars. The rat­ings are based on an ac­count­abil­ity met­ric put to­gether over the last 18 months by MSDE. The met­ric is the state de­part­ment’s an­swer to re­quire­ments posed by the fed­eral Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act, passed in late 2015.

Alex Jaf­furs, St. Mary’s pub­lic schools’ as­sess­ment and ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer, said school staff can now petition for more points. “Things get lost in trans­la­tion,” he said, adding that “how we do things lo­cally may not be in­ter­preted up at state like we would like them to, that’s where we can hag­gle for more points.”

Su­per­in­ten­dent Scott Smith said “we don’t horse-trade for points, but we do make sure we get credit for what we are re­ally do­ing with kids.”

Karin Bai­ley, school board chair­woman, said “MSDE did not give us credit for things we had … be­cause they didn’t un­der­stand what we were do­ing or what we sub­mit­ted or [it] was clas­si­fied wrong.

“Our county fared pretty well, but I’m sure there are some that didn’t and now they’re go­ing to have to fight that per­cep­tion go­ing for­ward,” Bai­ley said.

She said “there was such fo­cus on this from Real­tors, from politi­cians, from par­ents” and oth­ers to com­pare schools with­out hav­ing “a com­plete ac­cu­rate pic­ture, [and] I think that is ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing.”

Some fac­tors, like a stu­dent and staff cli­mate sur­vey, were not in­cluded in the star rat­ings this year.

Smith said school staff sent at the end of the school year all of the in­for­ma­tion “in a mas­sive file,” and then MSDE had to parse out the data to fit ac­count­abil­ity re­quire­ments, and then “spits out a num­ber at the end.” Scores are then eval­u­ated by school staff “to see whether or not we got the credit we should have.”

Smith said classes of­fer­ing “com­pu­ta­tional think­ing,” one of the fac­tors

used for mid­dle school rank­ings, are not a re­quired MSDE core con­tent cur­ricu­lum stan­dard. “All other cour­ses are tracked back to very spe­cific con­tent stan­dards,” he said.

Lisa Bach­ner, St. Mary’s pub­lic schools’ su­per­vi­sor of cur­ricu­lum and in­struc­tion, said staff are work­ing with MSDE rep­re­sen­ta­tives to de­ter­mine what classes qual­ify as com­pu­ta­tional think­ing.

Jaf­furs told school board mem­bers there were two ways to earn points, ei­ther by “per­cent of a whole” sim­i­lar to The Part­ner­ship for As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reers, or PARCC, test scores or “as­signed scores,” which are points del­e­gated based on stan­dards or in­ter­vals.

Points are as­signed for items like growth in English and math, low chronic absenteeism and whether schools pro­vide a well-rounded cur­ricu­lum. Fac­tors that were awarded based on ac­tual points earned in­clude PARCC scores, grad­u­a­tion rates, English lan­guage pro­fi­ciency and oth­ers.

“Most schools in the state do of­fer well-round-

ed cur­ricu­lum … but some do it bet­ter than oth­ers,” Jaf­furs said.

Smith said the way points are earned with a “per­cent of a whole” strat­egy is more straight­for­ward, where points are based on an ac­tual score. With “as­signed points,” a score is com­pared to oth­ers in the state and then ranked as MSDE sees fit.

“If 85 per­cent of your kids are not chron­i­cally ab­sent, then you would as­sume you’d get 11 or 12 points out of the 15,” he said.

He said rather than giv­ing full points to a school sys­tem on a rat­ing fac­tor, state rep­re­sen­ta­tives com­pared all points earned across the state and gave scores they thought were ap­pro­pri­ate.

De­spite hav­ing ap­prox­i­mately 85 per­cent of stu­dents not be­ing chron­i­cally ab­sent, St. Mary’s pub­lic schools got “what Mary­land de­ter­mined the quin­tile most ap­pro­pri­ate, so they gave us six points,” he said.

“It’s a data ma­nip­u­la­tion on top of a data ma­nip­u­la­tion,” Smith said, adding, “it’s their dis­till­ing data to present the story they want to present.”

With as­signed scores,

“you’re not truly re­flect­ing the data,” the su­per­in­ten­dent said.

“So much for trans­parency,” Allen said.

Smith said the pre­vi­ous thresh­old for a stu­dent to be con­sid­ered chron­i­cally ab­sent was if they missed about 25 days or more of an aca­demic year. He said the cur­rent thresh­old is stu­dents who miss 10 per­cent or more of school days, “and doesn’t take into ac­count why you might be ab­sent” for

health rea­sons.

Smith said at the meet­ing he’s yet to get an­swers about why schools are awarded as­signed points for any of the fac­tors “other than they wanted to award credit the way they wanted to award credit.”

Jaf­furs ad­vised that school staff “can’t rest on our lau­rels” and should con­tinue to im­prove rat­ings where pos­si­ble.

“We have more of a holis­tic mea­sure here” Jaf­furs said, adding that be- fore the star rat­ings came out “we would just have the PARCC scores.” He said other in­for­ma­tion, like a cul­ture and cli­mate sur­vey “cou­pled with grad­u­a­tion rates, PARCC [scores] and chronic absenteeism,” make up the rat­ing each St. Mary’s school earned.

See http://re­port­card. msde.mary­land.gov for more in­for­ma­tion about St. Mary’s schools star rat­ings.

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