Many Charles County elementary and middle schools saw a decline in school evaluation scores, declines that officials said came as no surprise.
The Maryland State Department of Education released the School Progress Index results for each school Tuesday afternoon.
The SPI aims to have each school reach progress goals based on individual targets rather than an absolute measure, as was done with Adequate Yearly Progress in years past.
Progress scores for kindergarten through eighth grade are calculated through three indicators: 30 percent for achievement, or scores from Maryland School Assessments of math, reading and science; 30 percent for growth, which is student improvement on the math and reading MSAs; and 40 percent for gap reduction, the difference between the lowest and highest performing subgroups.
Subgroups include ethnic and racial minorities, children in poverty based on numbers receiving free or reduced-price meals, children with special needs and children whose first language is not English.
Schools receive a score for the indicators and overall progress index. The results from the scores place schools in “strands,” or categories that will allow systems to target which schools require further interventions or recognitions.
The SPI is calculated using a value of 0 to 1 or greater. Schools meeting all targets with an overall score of 1 or greater fall into strand 1. Schools at 0.9 or greater that meet 0 to 3 targets fall into strands 2, 3 and 4. The fifth strand represents a score of less than .9 and meeting 0 to 2 targets.
This year, 16 of the school system's 28 elementary and middle schools received a strand 5 score.
One school, C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School, reached the highest strand.
Amy Hollstein, the public schools' assistant superintendent for instruction, said that being in strand 5 does mean that the school needs to realign its school improvement plan, but it does not mean the school performed poorly.
She said a school might have a high percentage of students doing well, but that a smaller amount of students not making it to the target can affect the total score.
For example, Dr. James Craik Elementary School reached 95 percent or higher in reading and math for the majority of students tested last year. The average score for reading schoolwide is 100 percent.
The school dropped one strand level because it did not reach its 30 percent growth target, causing the school to go from strand 1 to strand 2.
Craik Principal Penny Nye said she is very proud of her students and teachers for all of their hard work.
In terms of growth, Nye said, staff will continue to work every day on meeting the individual needs of students.
“We are always striving to be better than we are,” she said.
Mary B. Neal Elementary School maintained a strand 2 score, also having missed the target for growth.
Neal Principal Carol Leveillee said that as a principal, the two things she asks herself after seeing the score is “why and what can we do?”
The reason for the school's strand 2 score, she found, is that the school missed its growth target in math. She said that the school will work on professional development to make sure teachers are up to speed with the Investigation math program used at the elementary level. Leveillee said her school did well on the achievement target and gap reduction target.
Hollstein said that the school system knew strand scores would go down at many schools because MSA scores, which were released earlier in the summer, went down.
A combination of the school system moving to a new curriculum and eliminating the modified version of the MSA, which allowed students with special needs to take a version better suited to their needs, played a significant role in strand scores, Hollstein said.
She said that last year, students were being tested on one curriculum but taught another. Hollstein said that as the state moves to a new test to align with its new curriculum, many issues will sort themselves out.
“Once the curriculum matches the test, it will take care of a lot of the schools that stayed in their strands or went down,” Leveillee said.
Of the elimination of the modified exam, Hollstein said the system will look at how students in special education programs are taught.
“[Students with special needs] can be just as successful as everyone else, we just have to find the right tools,” she said.
Hollstein said that while there are reasons behind many of the declines, she is not thrilled that they happened.
“I'd rather be talking about all strand 1 scores right now,” she said.
Strand 1 scores are the goal for the school system and a goal Hollstein says is obtainable.
She said that each school will look at its data closely and write school improvement plans based on that data.
Neighboring St. Mary's County also saw significant decreases this year, with 10 of its 22 elementary and middle schools at strand 5.
Two of Calvert County's elementary schools were strand 5 this year, though several Calvert schools reached strand 1.
Statewide, 62 percent of Maryland elementary and middle schools met their school targets.
High school data will be released later this year.