This article, written by Liz Bowie, originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

Maryland’s school accountability system forces schools to focus on its lowest performing students while the high achievers are largely ignored, according to a report by a Washington think tank.

The report, released recently by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute says that under No Child Left Behind, schools weren’t rewarded for how well they educated the nation’s gifted or high achieving students because emphasis was placed on getting all students to achieve at a minimum level.

Some states have moved away from that accountability system to look at how much growth students are making in a year of school. Under that model, the states compare test scores from one year to the next. Students are expected to make a year of academic progress, whether they are ahead or behind their grade level when they begin the school year. If students make more than a year of progress, then the schools are considered to be doing well.

“There’s a much fairer way to grade schools,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute and one of the authors of the report. “I am hoping they will look at this common sense approach…look at all the kids, not just the kids at the proficiency level.”

Petrilli argues that the students who lose most under the current system are low-income, high achievers in schools where attention is focused on students reaching proficiency.

Using student growth as a measure of achievement has been criticized nationally in the past several years when it was used to measure teacher performance.

Maryland is currently rewriting its accountability system under a new law called the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is taking the place of No Child Left Behind. Chester E. Finn, who was the former president of Fordham, is a member of the Maryland State Board of Education. The state board’s president, Andrew Smarick, formerly worked at Fordham.

Under the ESSA rewrite, Smarick said the state school board is now seriously considering an approach which would consider on the achievement of all students, thus rectifying the issues the report highlights.

“This is the direction we are headed. It is the details we are going to have to work out,” Smarick said. “The accountability system is going to do a better job of tracking student growth.”

The report notes that only four states base at least half of school ratings on growth for all students. It also recommends that states begin to report how many students have achieved at an advanced level and to give schools credit for increasing those numbers over time.

Currently, only five states treat high-achieving students as a subgroup and report their results separately. Maryland does report the numbers of students scoring in an advanced category. Overall, Maryland got one of the report’s lowest ratings for policies that fail to shine a light on gifted students.

“To ensure that Maryland’s economy and society are strong, all Maryland’s children – from the lowest-achieving to the highest-achieving – need to receive an education that leads them to reach their maximum potential,” said Jason Botel, executive director of MarylandCAN, an education advocacy group. “Hopefully this report drives all of us in public education to ensure that our policies and practices serve all students well.”


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