School Systems Prepare For Common Core Testing Changes

August 27, 2014

An August 24 Baltimore Sun article examined the challenges county school boards are facing to implement the new testing requirements under Common Core.  The tests, which will replace the Maryland School Assessments, are called Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

These tests, aligned with the Common Core, will be much harder as the state begins to expect more analysis and deeper thinking from students. Pass rates of 80 percent and higher seen at most Maryland schools are expected to drop substantially in the spring.

Students may also expect to see more computers and laptops in their classrooms, as schools gear up to integrate technology in teaching and to give the new PARCC tests. Many school districts plan to give the PARCC tests online this coming school year, even though they will not be required to do so until the 2016-2017 school year.

The article noted how the Anne Arundel and Baltimore County and Baltimore City school systems have been upgrading student and school technology in preparation for administering PARCC :

Some school districts said they have used federal Race to the Top money to purchase new technology to give the tests online. Anne Arundel County will soon have about 8,000 Chromebooks at a cost of $2.6 million in addition to 33,000 desktops and laptops, according to Greg Barlow, the county’s technology officer. County schools have recently updated the bandwidth so they have the capacity to give the tests online.

Baltimore County has announced it plans to provide a device for every child over the next several years. It is introducing laptops to several grades at 10 elementary schools this fall and has supplied all of its teachers with the devices this summer.

[Baltimore] City officials said that after participating in the state’s PARCC field tests last year, when about 5,300 students took the exam online, the district is prepared. In the 2012-2013 school year, only six schools had administered a state assessment online, compared to 136 last year.

US Education Secretary Allows National Delay in Use of New Student Tests for Teacher Evaluations

August 22, 2014

As reported by the New York Times, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced on Thursday that states could delay the use of test results in teacher-performance ratings by another year. As described,

Using language that evoked some of his fiercest critics, Mr. Duncan wrote in a blog post, “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools,” and he added that teachers needed time to adapt to new standards and tests that emphasize more than simply filling in bubbled answers to multiple-choice questions.

In Maryland, the General Assembly has already delayed use of student performance data in teacher evaluations until the 2016-2017 school year.  For more information on that law, see our previous posts, Bill Delaying Use of Test Scores in Teacher Evaluations Passes, Senate Votes to Delay New Teacher Evaluations, and Legislators Consider When to Use Student Assessments in Teacher Evaluations.

For more information on Secretary Duncan’s announcement, see the full story from the New York Times.

Anne Arundel Board of Education Adopts New Suspensions Policy

August 21, 2014

Richard Benfer, President of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. Photo courtesy of the Maryland State Education Association.

As reported by The Capital Gazettethe Anne Arundel County Board of Education on Wednesday approved a new policy for student suspensions and expulsions that focuses on rewarding positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior.  The Gazette describes,

The policy is designed to keep kids in the classroom, and focuses on fostering, teaching and acknowledging favorable behavior, school officials say.

But it’s hard getting through a lesson plan with a disruptive student in the room, and the shift will mean that such students spend more time in the classroom instead of the principal’s office, said Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County President Richard Benfer.

According to John Woolums, Director of Governmental Relations of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, there is also the budgetary concern that more in-school suspensions could increase costs.  New professional development needs and additional in-school educational services and behavioral supports, including hiring additional staff such as counselors, social workers and school psychologists could be associated with the change.

For more information, see the Capital Gazette.  For more information on the statewide shift in suspensions policies, see our previous posts on Conduit Street: Queen Anne’s School Board Adopts New Student Discipline PolicyLocal School Boards React to State’s New School Discipline RegsProposed Student Discipline Regs Draw Local ConcernState Education Board Approves Engagement, Testing, Disciplinary PoliciesState Education Board Considers New Discipline Regulations.


Maryland Association of Boards of Education Partners with Keenan Pharmacy Purchasing Coalition

August 21, 2014


According to a recent press release, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) has partnered with Keenan Pharmacy Purchasing Coalition to offer member schools systems a new pharmacy benefits initiative that provides much needed fiscal relief from escalating prescription drug coverage.  As described,

Pharmacy expenses are a major driver of increasing health care costs. Between 2015 and 2020, annual drug expenditures are expected to increase over 40%. The Keenan Pharmacy Purchasing Coalition (KPPC) is an innovative pharmacy program that delivers cost savings and the most advanced prescription management capabilities for a school system’s employee benefit offering. KPPC allows them to take advantage of volume discount pricing and the most generous manufacturer rebates, while providing guaranteed improvement in drug cost management without changing your existing plan design.

Because school districts do not have to alter the design of current prescription plans to participate in this new program, KPPC’s savings are available to districts that are currently under contract with employee bargaining units. As total enrollment in KPPC reaches specified thresholds, all participating districts automatically receive reduced pricing.

County governments in Maryland may take advantage of the National Association of Counties (NACo) partnership with CVS Caremark, which provides a free prescription discount card exclusively for NACo member counties to offer to their residents.  All Maryland counties are current members of the National Association of Counties.

For more information about the NACo Prescription Discount Card Program, see these links:


Charles County Schools Seek to Expand Bring Your Own Device Program

August 20, 2014

According to the Southern Maryland Newspapers Online, Charles County Public Schools officials say they hope to expand the Bring Your Own Device program to every school in the system by the end of the school year.

BYOD, piloted at an elementary, a middle and a high school in May, allows students access to their personal smart devices — smartphones, tablets and laptops — for use during lessons at specified times.

The administrators at the pilot schools — Arthur Middleton Elementary School, General Smallwood Middle School and Thomas Stone High School — have ascribed the BYOD trial run as a win and will serve as point people for principals who are interested in instituting the program at their schools, schools spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson said.

For more information, see the Southern Maryland Newspapers Online.

Common Core Comes to MACo Summer Conference

August 19, 2014
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Betty Weller, President of the Maryland State Education Association addresses the audience at MACo’s education session, with Delegate John Bohanan of St. Mary’s County and Council President Craig Rice of Montgomery County.

The State’s education leadership shared their insight and perspective into Maryland’s implementation of the Common Core Standards at MACo’s Summer Conference. The Common Core Standards aim to ensure all students are ready for success after high school, by establishing clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Standards mark a departure from the content of what our children learn and a new approach to how they will learn it.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery, started off the discussion by sharing how the State’s educational system can be described as “great by choice” because of our continuous striving for high performance. She described how as part of our effort, we have updated our education performance testing several times since 1990, including the most recent move to the PARCC assessments aligned with the Common Core Standards.  Secretary Lowery shared the importance of stepping back from time-to-time to assess our curriculum and assessments to make sure that they are adequately preparing our students for a changing job market.

Betty Weller, President of the Maryland State Education Association, stated that the new standards are important, but emphasized the time need to adjust to the change.  President Weller noted that the standards require development of new curriculum, and development of new curriculum takes time and accompanying professional development.  She described how MSEA is working with the State Board of Education, the Local Boards of Education, the Public School Superintendents to advance professional development and implementation strategies for Student Learning Objectives under curriculum developed for the Common Core Standards, through a grant MSEA received from the National Education Association.

Raymond Leone, President, Maryland PTA, shared how parent teacher associations make sure that there is a two-way conversation between parents and teachers, so that parents are aware of the transitions happening in our schools. Mr. Leone emphasized the need for the Common Core Standards and continuous improvement in preparation of our students for college and careers.  He asked County Leaders to help educate parents on the transition to Common Core.

Council President Craig Rice of Montgomery County and Delegate John Bohanan of St. Mary’s County moderated the session.  Council President Rice serves at the Chair of MACo’s Education Subcommittee and Delegate John Bohanan serves as Chair of the House Appropriations Education and Economic Development Subcommittee. Delegate Bohanan closed the session stating that the General Assembly anticipates continued involvement in education reform as legislation comes before them.

Candidates Pledge to Restore Local Transportation Funding, Work More Closely With Counties

August 19, 2014

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Governor Anthony Brown both pledged to restore local transportation funding during the Gubernatorial Forum held on Saturday morning of the MACo Summer Conference. However, they proposed different approaches to do so.

Courtesy Joe Lamberti/AP Photo

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Larry Hogan (Courtesy Joe Lamberti/AP Photo)

During his opening comments, Mr. Hogan pledged to fully restore local highway user revenues, averaging $350 million a year, to local governments in his first budget. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown commented that he is “committed to take steps to restore and evaluate the formula.”  He stated that his Administration would “sit down with local governments and work out an agreeable approach and timeframe to restore local transportation funding and develop a formula that would withstand good times and bad.”

The Gubernatorial Forum was the closing session of the 2014 Summer Conference and gave MACo’s membership the opportunity to hear from the candidates on a number of issues of importance. The forum format allowed each candidate to make an opening statement, respond to five questions and make a closing statement. In addition to local transportation funding, question topics focused on economic opportunity, bay cleanup efforts, education priorities, and state and counties working together.

To create economic opportunity, Mr. Hogan said he would “change Maryland’s perceived anti-business attitude and let everyone know that Maryland is open for business; change the unfair regulatory environment; and reduce the tax burden on business.” Lt. Governor Brown stated that his “top priority is to create jobs.”  He would also invest in education and training programs and streamline regulations. He commented that counties must do the same. He stated that his “number one strategic goal is to establish Maryland’s business climate to be number one in the country.”

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Lt. Governor Anthony Brown Courtesy Joe Lamberti/AP Photo

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Lt. Governor Anthony Brown (Courtesy Joe Lamberti/AP Photo)


When asked about Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, Mr. Hogan stated, “the number one cause of pollution in the Bay is sediment from the Susquehanna and Conowingo Dam.” He commented that his administration would push back against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and work to get Pennsylvania and Excelon to pay their fare share. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown asked the audience, “Do we take steps to leave the environment better or do we say that government doesn’t have a role in that issue and climate change?” He commented that you can’t support the environment if you rollback the stormwater management fee. He also stated that “if we’re going to tackle this issue, we need to broaden our coalitions for an all front effort. There is no silver bullet.”

In discussing education priorities, Mr. Hogan stated that “Maryland has spent more dollars on education, but problems have gotten worse.” He said he would make sure Maintenance of Effort is as flexible as possible and push down decisions and funding as local governments are closest to the problem. Lt Governor Brown offered three education priorities – school construction with technology upgrades, eliminating the achievement gap starting with the expansion of pre-K, and expanding career technology education.

The last question asked each candidate their ideas for state and county collaboration in their Administration. Mr. Hogan stated that his Administration “will have an open door and counties will have a seat at the table.” He said, “we’ll need full cooperation working with the counties to get things done.” Lt. Governor Brown responded that he has already taken steps to work more closely with counties by selecting Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate. He also commented that he would engage counties much earlier in the budget process and continue the Intergovernmental Council bridging state and local leaders.

Additional coverage of the MACo Gubernatorial Forum can be found in the following publications.

Washington Post
Baltimore Sun
Salisbury Daily Times







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