Protect Our Schools Act Sponsor Discusses Star Ranking

    A Montgomery County delegate who sponsored the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017 is cautioning state residents to take recently released star ratings for state schools “with a grain of salt.”

    Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) made the statement on Twitter.

    The report cards were released Tuesday. A majority of state schools – 86 percent – earned three, four or five stars in a ranking system. There were 219 five-star schools, and 35 schools in the state earned one star.

    In a series of tweets, Luedtke explained why he wouldn’t be among those dwelling on the star rankings:

    The Protect Our Schools Act was passed in 2017 by the General Assembly to guide the state’s implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. That law, the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act, required states to adopt new accountability measures that extended beyond state standardized test scores. The federal law requires at least one indicator of school quality or student success and, at a state’s discretion, an indicator of student growth.

    By including language about assigning schools a percentile rank ― allowing comparison to all other schools in the state ― and barring the state board from using a letter-grade model to rank schools, lawmakers thought they’d thwarted an overly simplistic reporting system. However, the Maryland State Department of Education and Maryland State Board of Education implemented the law with a five-star rating system, a half-step removed from giving schools a grade A through F.

    In 2017, Maryland lawmakers argued that too much focus on test scores alone was trapping some schools with “failing” labels and overlooking other factors such as student improvement over time and access to a well-rounded curriculum. The law required 35 percent of the overall scores to consider factors like student growth, absenteeism, graduation rates and climate surveys, which would gage the satisfaction of students and teachers in schools. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) vetoed the legislation, calling it the weakest accountability system in the country and wrote that “the prioritization of these non–academic factors is designed to hide what is really happening in failing schools and is not correlated to student achievement in any way.”

    While some of the non-testing factors were included in this year’s accountability scores, the climate surveys are still in a pilot stage and were not included. Other metrics like student performance in science and social studies also weren’t included in the first year of the new accountability system.

    Luedtke said too much focus on standardized testing often results in school scores that essentially reflect back a neighborhood’s wealth or poverty.

    Luedtke said factors like the climate survey are important because they will reflect the quality of life in Maryland schools: Is a “high performing” five-star school filled with miserable students and teachers? Are one-star schools creating a vibrant, creative atmosphere for learning and a safe space for students?

    Despite the tweet thread, Luedtke said he thought state education officials did their best on the accountability report, which is largely guided by federal law no matter how many changes the legislature or state board make. Most of his quibbles, Luedtke said, were with the federal mandates in the first place.

    “I think [the state] did the best job they could within the bounds of practicality and the law,” Luedtke said Thursday.

    Luedtke said Thursday that he did not think state lawmakers would consider legislation this year to make further changes to the accountability law.

    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.