How Maryland’s School System became the Second Least Accountable in the Nation

By Laurie Halverson Candidate for Maryland House of Delegates, District 15

Maryland has the unfortunate distinction of being the second least accountable school system in the nation. This means that the federal plan (under the “Every Student Succeeds Act”) to determine school accountability is based on a weaker set of academic factors than most of the nation. Standardized test scores for high schools, for example, account for only 30% of a school’s overall score. Other factors that are used to determine accountability under the new plan are:

  • graduation rate
  • achieving English Language Proficiency
  • being “on track” in 9th grade
  • completion of a “well rounded” curriculum
  • chronic absenteeism
  • school climate survey
  • opportunities of accessing a well-rounded curriculum.

The ESSA plan had good intentions of placing less emphasis on testing, so pressures to “teach to the test” would diminish while raising the importance of a well-rounded curriculum vis-à-vis the focus on English and Math courses. However, ESSA regulations state that academic indicators in a school system’s accountability plan should receive “substantially more weight” than the non-academic indicators. ESSA placed a higher priority on measuring academic factors to ensure that low performing schools could be clearly identified to receive appropriate academic support.

So why did Maryland, which has a history of being one of the top school systems in the nation, submit an accountability plan which is not as strong as other states?

As a Maryland State Board of Education Member in 2017, I worked with fellow Board Members on a draft of the state accountability plan. Although our board was developing a strong plan that complied with federal ESSA law, as vetted by the public, our legislators undercut that work. In fact, the General Assembly interfered with the process and lowered the academic criteria used to determine school accountability. They created a bill called the “Protect Our Schools Act” that passed the General Assembly in 2017. Although Governor Hogan vetoed the bill, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly overrode that veto.

After some back and forth with the U.S. Department of Education and the State Board of Education, the General Assembly’s new law didn’t mesh with the ESSA law as expected, so tweaks had to be made to fix the federal concerns, while remaining true to the intentions of the bill.

The teachers’ union was a strong advocate of the Protect our Schools Act. They wanted to diminish the importance of standardized tests, fearing their effect on teacher evaluations. The fact that standardized scores in Maryland stagnated over the past three years didn’t give the teachers’ union confidence that schools could improve unless other non-academic factors could be weighted higher, painting a more positive picture.

A school with low performance on the standardized tests could more easily mask its academic deficiencies with other non-academic indicators, some of which are more subjective and possible to manipulate. For example, an already bilingual student could receive a “seal of biliteracy” without having to learn anything in our state schools, and would receive full credit under the accountability plan for completion of a “well-rounded curriculum.”

Although Governor Hogan promoted a new bill called the “Protect our Students Act” during the 2018 session, it unfortunately, did not receive any traction.

This year, we must elect candidates who put students and families as their priority. We need elected officials who will support Governor Hogan’s education-forward agenda. Although more education funding isn’t the answer, new ideas and strong accountability will help us to find answers. If I’m elected as a state delegate, I will be committed to helping all students succeed through a sensible accountability plan that helps to identify struggling schools, and will be tirelessly committed to helping all students succeed.

Montgomery County Republican Party