- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

BALTIMORE — Of the 167 elementary and middle schools statewide classified as needing improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law, more than two-thirds are in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County — a sign, state officials say, that chronically underperforming schools continue to lag even as the rest of the state shows improvement.

The data released yesterday also highlighted the challenges facing middle schools. About one-third of middle schools statewide need improvement, compared with 10 percent of elementary schools, said Gary Heath, assistant state superintendent for accountability and assessment.

Schools that don’t make “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind standards for two straight years are classified as needing improvement. Standards get tougher every year under the federal law, which calls for 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

The number of Maryland schools that need improvement increased by five over last year.

“We’re very happy that the numbers have not grown significantly,” Mr. Heath said. “The bar has been raised again. We’ve seen four years of steady improvement.”

Progress is measured by scores on standardized math and reading tests in the third through eighth grades.

Sixty-four elementary and middle schools in Baltimore were designated as needing improvement. Forty-five of those have not met standards for several years running and must implement restructuring plans.

Among those are the seven middle schools that state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick tried to take over this year; she was blocked by Democrats in the General Assembly in a move that has provided ammunition to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s re-election campaign. Mr. Ehrlich’s Democratic opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, contends that city schools face huge challenges but are improving and shouldn’t encounter undue state interference.

The consistent failure is “frustrating,” Mr. Heath said.

“They’ve been at the bottom of the performance spectrum for a long, long time,” he said. “The goal of the department and the board is that we no longer can accept those kids going on to high school unprepared for any kind of high school work.”

Linda M. Chinnia, chief academic officer for Baltimore schools, said the city was working with communities served by the chronically underperforming schools to decide whether to convert them to charter schools or bring in outside operators.

“We are very serious about making the kinds of changes that these schools do need,” she said. “It was just a question of whether it was done with the state overseeing it or with the local school system taking the lead. It was never an argument that the schools were OK.”

In Prince George’s County, 63 schools were designated as needing improvement, although nearly half of those are in the first few years of failing to show adequate annual progress.

There were some success stories. Thirty-one schools statewide — including eight in Baltimore and five in Prince George’s — achieved “adequate yearly progress” for the second consecutive year and were taken off the list of schools needing improvement. At the same time, however, 37 schools statewide were designated as needing improvement for the first time.

Beyond Baltimore and Prince George’s County, the number of troubled schools drops off precipitously. Montgomery County has 12 schools that need improvement, but none of those has failed to show progress for more than three years running. Baltimore County has six schools that need improvement, and Anne Arundel County has five. Howard County has none.

Thirteen elementary and middle schools need improvement in Western and Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

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