Three elements in St. Mary’s public schools are in need of improvement, according to the Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated Strategic Plan.
Maureen Montgomery, the school system’s deputy superintendent, and Jeff Maher, its chief strategic officer, unveiled the state-approved strategic plan and ways to enhance those focused areas at the Nov. 20 school board meeting.
“So the target areas that we focused on in our ESSA plan were early literacy, transition grades and then ninth grade success,” Montgomery said. “We chose each one of those areas because those were things that definitely data supported that we had issues with across the system.” The strategic plan gives descriptions and analyses for each focus area, identifies its root causes and lists ways to address them.
“I think having the three focus areas and the ones that you selected, have really proven to be over the years just sort of bellwether predictors of how our students do,” Cathy Allen, school board vice chair, said.
The goal for early childhood literacy is to close any learning gaps for children transitioning from home or childcare to prekindergarten, Head Start or kindergarten. To do that, the public schools provide universal screenings to identify interventions that could eliminate possible learning gaps.
The report noted the gaps often happen to students from low-income households and children with disabilities. If St. Mary’s schools can ensure students can read on grade level by the end of second grade, achievement in English language arts becomes a step closer. An analysis says scores from the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, or MCAP, continue to increase, but noted about half of each third, fourth and fifth grade classes who have not reached proficient English language arts scores have struggled with reading fluency.
Universal screening shows most students who attend prekindergarten or Head Start are on track for school readiness. In the “root cause” section of the plan, the school system reports students who lack a preschool experience do not have the same level of preparedness, and noted providing more access to intervention and day care programs could help close that gap. “So targeting our early literacy program and looking at what we’re doing for kids at a very early age, we think is going to only have a good impact for us over time,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said there are issues with transitioning from pre-kindergarten to elementary, elementary to middle and middle to high school. The expectations change, the school building is different and students gain more freedom.
An analysis in the strategic plan shows state standardized test proficiency levels drop from 50.6% for fifth grade English to 44.2% for sixth grade English. Proficient math scores drop from 45.1% to 37.9% between fifth and sixth grade, and promotion rates for eighth- and ninth-graders show “an increasing trend of students not earning the sufficient number of credits to progress to grade 10,” according to the report.
It mentions how Fairlead Academy stepped in to intervene struggling ninth-graders who just left middle school and utilizing the Freshman Seminar class to ease the transition. Montgomery said the school system has access to literacy coaches who can assist with the transition.
Although high school freshmen were included in the transition focus, the school system is honing in on ninth-grade successes. More specifically, ninth-graders earning credits for promotion.
“As a former high school principal, you pay attention to what’s happening in your ninth grade cohort with their data and who’s earning enough credits to become a sophomore,” she said, adding it’s the hardest work but the work that pays off the most.
The report states students who are successful their freshman year are more likely to graduate on time.
Providing interventions and support throughout the year can lead to ninth-graders achieve success, the report states. Specialized support for those who have struggled in the past, like economically disadvantaged and special education students, is what St. Mary’s schools referred to as an essential element to its educational equity plan.
This school year, 91.1% of students were promoted to 10th grade, which is an improvement over the past three years. Nearly three out of four of the 148 students who were not promoted were identified as economically disadvantaged and 23% were students with disabilities. The school system said a key root cause for failure to be promoted to a sophomore is the lack of understanding of earning credits to graduate.
For more information on the Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated Strategic Plan, visit www.smcps.org/deputy-superintendent/master-plan.