WASHINGTON – Maryland schools lead the nation when it comes to setting standards and holding schools accountable, but got a failing grade for school climate in a report released Wednesday by Education Week.
The independent education magazine ranked Maryland last among the 35 states that were scored for school climate, which covered areas such as classroom size, absenteeism and parent participation in school activities.
The “Quality Counts 2001” report also gave the state C’s for teacher improvement and for overall resource allocation – although Maryland got an F in the resource category for the unequal distribution of state funds among school districts.
Despite the mixed grades, state school officials were enthusiastic.
“We are pleased to be recognized as the nation’s best in an area that every school system deems so important,” state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said in a prepared statement. “Standards and accountability has been a cornerstone since we began school reform in Maryland.”
Since Education Week began publishing Quality Counts five years ago, Maryland has received an A or A- every year for its program of standards and accountability. But it has also received an F every year for school climate.
A state Education Department spokeswoman defended the school climate grade.
“We’ve received this grade for several years, but it’s really out of our control,” said Linda Bazerjian, the spokeswoman.
She noted that the grade is based in part on the strength of a state’s charter school legislation and that states without this legislation lose significant points. Maryland does not have a state charter school law.
Bazerjian focused instead on the state’s high accountability score, which she credited to the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. Maryland is one of only a few states where both classroom teachers and administrators help and score the state standardized tests.
“The success of our program rests in the comprehensiveness and longevity of the program,” said Bazerjian. “We’ve really covered all the areas.”
Standards and accountability grades were based on the subjects tested, the clarity of standards, the types of accountability programs each state established to measure performance, the number of grade levels tested and the variety of tests administered.
While 49 states have set standards that their schools must reach for, the report said only three have standards that are clear and specific in all four subjects of math, English, history and science in elementary, middle and high schools.
“States’ efforts to raise accountability and standards are beginning to bear fruit,” said Lynn Olson, projects editor for Quality Counts 2001. “Although tests have gotten better, they’re not good enough.”
In other categories, Maryland ranked third-to-last in thee nation for the distribution of funding across districts. States that target more funds to poorer neighborhoods got higher grades.
The report overall concludes that the nation’s schools are “on the right track,” but need to work on balancing standards, assessments and the tools schools need to succeed.
Education Week Editor Virginia Edwards said Maryland is also on the right track, noting its high score for standards and accountability, which “is the theme of this year’s report.”