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Maryland Board Adopts Plan To Make Schools Accountable for Performance

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Under pressure from top state officials to speed up the pace of school reform, the Maryland Board of Education has adopted a comprehensive plan that will make each school accountable for the performance of its students.

The board last month voted to set a three-year timetable for implementing recommendations offered in August by the state Commission on School Performance.

The schedule adopted by the board marked a quick shift of gears from its preliminary discussions in November, when the panel had mapped out a plan to phase in and evaluate the various reform recommendations more slowly. (See Education Week, Nov. 22, 1989.)

The commission, named for its chairman, Walter Sondheim, was appointed in 1987 by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The November meeting had drawn criticism from Mr. Schaefer and state education officials, who expressed concern that the reform process would be bogged down by bureaucracy.

Under the plan adopted in December, the state board will create an accreditation process that will compel each school to meet certain standards or face sanctions, possibly including a state takeover.

But high-performing schools will receive rewards, such as increased state funds or the ability to waive certain state regulations.

The first step to be taken under the resolution adopted by the board is the creation of a six-member school-improvement office within the education department.

Beginning this week, the new office will be staffed by three members appointed by Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling and three representatives from local school systems--a teacher, an assistant superintendent, and a principal.

The office will be responsible for developing a school-performance program based on the Sondheim Commission recommendations.

One goal of the new office will be to create a system for measuring a "vital core" of information from each school. Using that data, the improvement team will set minimum standards that each school must meet.

Among the vital-core data to be measured will be: academic and postsecondary attainment; graduation, attendance, and dropout rates; and student knowledge in reading, mathematics, writing, language skills, social studies, and science.

The school-improvement office also is to design a method for collecting a variety of information from each school--not only the vital-core data, but also on other factors the board wants to track, such as the number of economically disadvantaged youths and parental involvement.

The information will be made available on the state and local level through a computerized data base, and a report-card system that will begin next fall.

Under the accreditation plan, each school will be evaluated by a state team to see how students are progressing "in all areas for which schools are responsible," according to the board's resolution.

A number of states already have similar accreditation systems, noted Ramsay W. Selden, director of state education assessment for the Council of Chief State School Officers, but the use of state inspection teams is rare.

In addition, the school-improvement office will prepare plans to "help each school do its job better." It also will develop a "schools of the future" grant program to test innovative ideas and an alternative-certification program for teachers.

As the Sondheim Commission 8had recommended, the state board also agreed to drop the California Achievement Test in favor of a new Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

The new test, to be used in the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades as early as the spring of 1991, will measure what the board decides Maryland students should know.

The test currently in use was designed to measure students against national test-score averages.

Mr. Shilling said last month he will seek $1.4 million in the upcoming budget year to begin implementing the plan.

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