|VOL. 3, NO.3
School Reform Where It Counts:
Successful Schools, Successful School Systems
1997 Maryland School Performance Report
"Maryland is changing education in the right ways. You're a national leader in the
drive to raise standards. You're challenging students with rigorous assessments. You're
improving teaching. You're holding schools accountable. And public officials, parents,
business leaders, and communities aren't ducking for cover - they're holding themselves
accountable, too. Everyone is taking responsibility, and that's the way to get the job
-Richard W. Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education
Baltimore County Public Schools
Baltimore County Public Schools have shown consistent growth over the past few years,
steadily moving toward the goal of meeting state standards. In an effort to focus all
system resources on student achievement, the county has set three simply-stated goals:
- To improve achievement for all students.
- To maintain a safe and orderly learning environment in every school.
- To use resources effectively and efficiently.
This strong focus has provided schools with a framework for success. All initiatives
are evaluated on the basis of whether or not they will improve student achievement.
In particular, Baltimore County credits the following initiatives for its steady
- Formative assessments which are administered in the fall and are used to target
instruction to the knowledge and skills students need.
- An emphasis on performance- based instruction which actively engages students in
applying basic skills to real-life situations.
- Implementation of an Essential Curriculum which is aligned with MSPAP.
- A revised reading program with very structured word identification which is helping
students master essential reading skills at an earlier age.
- A Mentor Teacher Program in which 69 experienced teachers work in 50 schools that have a
significant number of staff members with five years or less of experience.
There are no miracle solutions for school improvement in Baltimore County, but steady
gains have occurred thanks to a renewed focus on student learning each and every day of
the school year.
New Windsor Middle School, Carroll County
At New Windsor Middle School, all students are expected to achieve "Excellence
through Effort." The school has created an atmosphere of high expectations that can
be observed on a daily basis, from student behavior to classroom achievement. Staff
members take pride in improving test scores by emphasizing good instruction.
The eighth grade teaching team in particular is committed to "performance-based
instruction" _ the kinds of "hands-on, minds-on" active learning that MSPAP
was created to encourage. MSPAP is also highly valued by New Windsor's school improvement
team, which uses the testing data to outline improvement goals, collaborating with staff
to coordinate teaching strategies and promote reading and writing across the curriculum.
The school's efforts have resulted in a 21.6 point gain on its MSPAP composite scores
since testing began in 1993, putting New Windsor within striking distance of the state
Dorchester County Public Schools
Dorchester County Public Schools continue to demonstrate consistent improvement in
school performance as measured by MSPAP. The school system ties its success to a focused
curriculum, a strong staff development program, and an instructional environment where
teachers and students are encouraged to take risks. Dorchester School Board President
Marlene Feldman attributes much of the success to a system-wide spirit of innovation:
"We want our people to feel comfortable with trying new ideas. If they work, we try
to spread the word of their success. If results are disappointing, we assess what we have
learned and move on."
initiatives include an innovative partnership with Sylvan Learning Centers which provides
supplemental instruction for at-risk students. A partnership with the Abell Foundation and
the Core Knowledge Foundation has enabled pilot testing of the Core Knowledge Curriculum.
Given its success at schools like Vienna Elementary School, the Board has decided to
extend the use of the curriculum to all elementary schools.
Staff development has also been key. Teachers have been thoroughly trained in the
Maryland Learning Outcomes and the "Dimensions of Learning" framework, and have
learned how to develop local assessment activities to be used as benchmarks for measuring
Vienna Elementary School, Dorchester County
Vienna Elementary School has increased its MSPAP composite score by a stunning 51.4
percentage points since 1993. Vienna is now one of only nine schools statewide to meet all
grade three MSPAP standards.
Vienna staff attribute the dramatic increase in their scores primarily to a dramatic
change in perspective: they have found that students are capable of much more than they
had previously thought. Team planning has also played an important role, with teachers
sharing responsibility for student achievement, maintaining small instructional groups,
and, most importantly, integrating language arts instruction with all content areas. Staff
have made significant changes in classroom practices and have tried new instructional
Vienna Elementary became a "Core Knowledge" school in 1994, an initiative the
school credits with further strengthening staff cohesiveness and an already strong parent
partnership. In fact, Core Knowledge serves as the backbone for all of Vienna's
Rising Sun Elementary School, Cecil County
disappointed with our scores," says Sandi Anderson, principal of Rising Sun
Elementary School, when she reflects on last year's MSPAP results. From 1995 to 1996, the
school's scores, which had been steadily climbing, dropped 5.2 points. The school
improvement team responded quickly, meeting weekly to plan how to target areas needing
After determining areas of need in math, the team designed a plan for third and fifth
grade students with lesson plans referenced to textbook activities for both home and
school. "Focusing on performance-based tasks dramatically improved our math
scores," says Anderson.
But the team didn't stop there. In addition to hosting guest speakers at staff
development sessions, the school drew upon its own internal expertise and focused on
sharing information across subject areas. Teachers visited all classrooms one grade above
and one below to determine how to better help build on acquired skills and provide a
stronger foundation for skills that will grow in complexity as students progress through
Motivation was not forgotten in the testing process, either. During third grade testing
week, those students were thrilled when they learned they would get to board the bus
first. Fifth grade test takers participated in a raffle to win T-shirts which read,
"I'm an MSPAP ACE," (Attendance, Completion, and Effort).
The school's efforts resulted in a 10.8 percentage point gain this year.
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