Bridge to Excellence, Maryland’s visionary program to bring adequacy and equity to elementary and secondary classrooms, has successfully fueled increased student achievement and academic innovation throughout the state, according to a new independent analysis.
Just as important, the report says that the Bridge to Excellence (BTE) funding—worth at least $1.3 billion in additional dollars to local systems—has started to reduce the gaps in achievement among certain economic and racial subgroups of students.
“Increased funding, combined with increased accountability, has resulted in increased student performance,” said State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. “In these difficult times, when Maryland residents seek safe investments, the Bridge to Excellence funding has been our state’s blue chip stock.”
BTE’s critical funding has helped student proficiency levels improve at all grades tested by the State and among all subgroups, according to MGT of America, the national consulting firm that has studied the law’s results over the past three years. In its final report, released today in Annapolis, MGT also found that all race/ethnic groups of elementary and middle school students improved their reading and mathematics proficiency levels on the assessments required by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
“The gaps in the percentages of Maryland students who needed to demonstrate proficiency to meet the NCLB goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 were closed by 51 percent in reading and 49 percent in math for the statewide aggregate of students in elementary school grades (3 to 5) and 36 percent in reading and 39 percent in mathematics for the aggregate of students in the middle school grades (6 to 8),” the report said.
BTE’s enhanced funding, combined with the law’s requirement that school systems assess their programs and the State’s enhanced oversight role, has laid the framework for
a culture that improves classroom work, according to MGT. The report looks at both the results of the program and at the programs used by local systems that produced the improving academic work.
“In the years following the implementation of BTE, local school systems demonstrated substantial improvements in the percentage of their student populations who were proficient in reading and mathematics,” the report says.
Jerry Ciesla, a Senior Partner at MGT and principal investigator on the Maryland project, said the Bridge to Excellence program was groundbreaking in many respects.
“Maryland ought to be congratulated for undertaking the Bridge to Excellence program,” Dr. Ciesla said. “The additional funding to local school systems truly made a difference. We can directly tie funding to improvements in student achievement.”
MGT found that the largest percentage of additional funds went to recruit and retain qualified educators, widely viewed as the most critical school-based factor to improving student achievement. Other instructional items, such as supplies, textbooks, and other teaching materials, also received additional dollars from BTE.
As part of its research, MGT conducted the largest-ever survey of Maryland public school teachers and principals. Survey responses in 2008 from 16,432 educators in 1,201 schools across the state confirmed earlier findings, which revealed a number of factors that contribute to improved educational achievement. These include more strategic and team planning, better utilization of data, organizing schools into professional learning communities, and improved professional development for educators.
The new report includes case studies of best practices taking place at schools throughout Maryland. For example, it cites Cresaptown Elementary School in Allegany County, one of a handful of Maryland schools to receive National Blue Ribbon status in 2008, as a school that includes many of the components of an excellent school. Teachers collaborate in teams, both at grade levels and across subject matters. They use a sophisticated data warehouse system, which tracks student progress. Teaching specialists at the school work directly with Cresaptown teachers to help strengthen instruction, helping teachers to develop individual instruction plans for struggling students.
The Maryland General Assembly in 2002 approved the BTE Act, which continues to bring an additional $1.3 billion to public schools. The Act, which set into law many of the recommendations of the Thornton Commission, also required a study of the program’s effectiveness, leading to the MGT research.
General Assembly members required that BTE funding adhere to four principles: adequacy, equity, simplicity, and flexibility. The law avoided earmarking funds for specific interventions, prompting school systems to direct money at areas they believe are most in need.
The master planning process required by BTE has effectively improved school system performance, according to MGT. Each of the 24 school systems has been required to develop a five-year master plan, which is reviewed and assessed by MSDE staff. The plans target specific local areas of need.
The complete report is available online at http://docushare.msde.state.md.us/docushare/dsweb/View/Collection-18046 .