ANNAPOLIS – Maryland became the seventh state Tuesday to gain federal approval for its plan to track student progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal landmark law that holds schools accountable for students’ success.
The move means students statewide will be required to take new tests designed to track yearly progress as early as next year, with the ultimate goal of having every student proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.
Despite the challenges that could come with stricter accountability standards, the approval brought relief to officials at the state Department of Education, who had submitted a proposal to the federal government Jan. 31.
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, flanked by Gov. Robert Ehrlich and state Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, made the announcement Tuesday morning at Hillsmere Elementary School in Annapolis.
“Today is really a victory for the children of Maryland, to ensure that we have an accountability plan and that no child will fall beneath the crack,” Grasmick said.
Maryland’s plan, a thick booklet of mathematical formulas, percentages and rules for measuring student performance, divides school populations into a variety of “subgroups”: racial and ethnic categories, students receiving free and reduced meals, special education students and children with limited English proficiency. The plan requires each “subgroup” to perform at the minimum level.
The state plan also requires 95 percent participation on Maryland State Assessments, which are new tests to be given to students in grades 3 through 8 and 10. The test, which replaces the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, was first given last month.
A baseline for measuring adequate yearly progress will be set this summer from results of the new tests.
State educators have acknowledged many schools could face an uphill battle when it comes to meeting the new mandates, because even one underperforming “subgroup” could alter a school’s progress.
But Grasmick pointed to Hillsmere, a school that has demonstrated improvement is possible.
In 1997, the school of 372 students showed a 33-point achievement gap between black and white students at the third-grade level, Grasmick said. By 2002, the gap shrunk to fewer than 12 points.
“In this school, they have worked very hard in the area of reading,” she said. “It’s a centerpiece of No Child Left Behind.”
Paige praised Maryland officials for scrapping their previous testing methods and instituting the Maryland State Assessments, which were designed to meet the federal mandates.
Other states that have gained federal approval – New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and Mississippi – had accountability plans “that were pretty close to the tenets of the law,” Paige said. “I think Maryland reorganized its entire accountability system to meet the components of (No Child Left Behind).”
Ehrlich called Tuesday’s announcement “terrific.”
“It closes the circle,” Ehrlich said, “because it involves a bill that I got to vote on as a member of Congress.”