Maryland State Department of Education

MSDE Bulletin

Keeping You Current on Education Reform in Maryland

MAY 30, 2000 Vol. 11, No. 8

State Moves Ahead With High School Assessments

The Maryland State Board of Education continued its strong support of the long-planned High School Assessments by adopting the recommendation of State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to keep the testing program on schedule, but delay for two years making the rigorous course-ending exams a graduation requirement. The Board's action carries provisions to make students accountable during the initial two years of the testing, starting with the ninth grade class entering high school in the fall of 2001.  

The Board voted 9-3 at its May meeting to continue with the assessments after several of the Board members mentioned in a 90-minute debate that they were influenced by 14 speakers in an earlier public open forum. Those speakers, representing a cross-section of educators, the business community and other citizens, overwhelmingly supported the program as planned.

Board members had expressed concern in recent months about continuing the program-which would be among the most stringent high stakes testing for high school students in the nation-without full funding for a support program that would help students who fall behind their peers academically prior to entering high school.

Dr. Grasmick advocated continuation of testing, the final piece of the state's 10-year-old education reform program.

"It is critical for us to meet our obligation to our students," said Dr. Grasmick. "The assessments speak to what I call, 'The Cruel Hoax,' where someone, somewhere, will tell one of our graduates, 'You don't have the competitive skills.' We can not let this happen."

Last fall, the Board adopted a $49 million Academic Intervention Plan that called for mandatory additional help for students who fall behind their peers at all grade levels. During its 2000 session, the Maryland General Assembly approved $12 million of the Academic Intervention Plan request (targeted toward middle schools). Additional legislation funded $7 million for family and early learning programs.

"We need both the intervention plan and the assessments, and we must keep aiming toward having the tests become a graduation requirement," said Dr. Grasmick. "We have built momentum in schools across the state over the past several years in working toward administration of the test. That momentum would have been lost if the program were delayed. With the Board's action today, we can continue on a path that carefully considers the achievements of all children."

Field testing began at selected schools across the state in January and continued earlier this month.

The Assessments Plan

* Assessments will be implemented as scheduled, starting with ninth grade class entering in fall of 2001.

* Assessments will first be tied to graduation for ninth graders entering in fall of 2003, contingent upon the State Board's judgment of adequate intervention.

* Scores for 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years will be reported on percentile basis for school systems, schools and individual students.

* Scores to be recorded on transcripts beginning with ninth grade class entering fall 2001.

* Committees will be activated to study incentives (including awarding of scholarships) and endorsements on diploma.

Bill Provides Home Loans for Teachers

One piece of legislation passed in the recently-completed 2000 Maryland General Assembly session has generated considerable interest in the education community around the state. Although the details concerning Senate Bill 206 are still being finalized, its passage means teachers will be included in efforts by the Department of Housing and Community Development to make low-cost home loans available.

Eligible teachers include those hired within the past five years; those committed to teaching in Maryland for at least the next three years; first-time homebuyers in designated areas; and those purchasing homes where the need for teachers is greatest.

The bill will help teachers pursue home purchases at more affordable rates and could become a valuable recruitment tool for local school systems facing teacher shortages.

Teachers interested in details of the program should call 1-800-638-7781 or 410-514-7530.

Students Meet Again on Safe Schools

More than 100 high school, middle school and elementary students and advisors convened in Annapolis early in May for the Spring Safe Schools Summit. This was a follow-up to the November Stand Up for Safe Schools summit at which more than 800 participants left with action plans for their schools.

The spring summit was held at the House Ways and Means Hearing Room in the Lowe House Office Building. Skipp Sanders, Deputy State Superintendent for Administration, represented the State Department of Education.

The Student Summit for Safe Schools is an initiative of the Maryland Safe Schools Interagency Steering Committee, which is co-chaired by Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick.

The spring summit brought together a group of student leaders who related how they utilized skills learned at the fall summit. The students also shared experiences from the past six months of how their schools worked to enhance safety. Students attending the fall summit made it clear that they wanted to play active roles shaping school safety initiatives in their schools and across the state.

The May summit included a review of local safe school action plans developed at the fall summit, the awarding of mini-grants for school safety action plans and the announcement of $50,000 in new funding for youth leadership safety initiatives for 2000-2001. There were reports of how 10 mini-grants for school safety, awarded in January 2000, were used.

Students developed criteria and issue priorities for the new mini-grant programs for student-led safe schools projects.

The summit also saw presentation of the first annual Safe Schools Interagency Steering Committee Recognition Awards. The winners included:

* School-based student individual: Kevin Steenberge of Columbia. He helped organize a week of activities promoting tolerance. The week culminated with more than 1,000 students signing a tolerance pledge.

* Community-based group: Young Kids Against Violence of Howard County. Elementary group found methods to educate their peers about peaceful methods of conflict resolution.

* Community-based individual: Katia Bree Falcey of Easton High School. She independently wrote, produced and directed a video for students about what they could do to prevent violence in their communities.

Burns of DORS Elected CSAVR Head

Robert Burns, Assistant State Superintendent of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, was elected president of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation for the 2001-02 year.

Burns, who will serve as president-elect from July 2000-June 2001, was elected at the organization's national conference in April. His national position over the next two years will enable Maryland to stay on top of evolving issues such as the implementation of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and the "Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Act," which has significant implications for public rehabilitation.

Review Sought for Inconsistencies in Service Learning

Maryland in 1993 became the first, and remains the only, state with a student Service Learning program as a graduation requirement. Since 1997, more than 99 percent of students met the requirement on time. Fewer than 100 students did not graduate due to failure to complete the 75 hours required.

However, the State Board has expressed interest in inconsistent interpretations of valid Service Learning projects after hearing an update of the program. Board President Edward Andrews asked State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick to recommend ways in which the state could audit the quality of Service Learning in each of the 24 local school systems.

"Our challenge relates to the quality of the program and obtaining an even quality across the state," said Dr. Grasmick. "We have not accomplished that 100 percent. . . . There are disparities from school to school and from system to system."

The board heard from Frederick County's Service Learning program, which has worked to make projects meaningful, in line with the program's original intent.

"What we do want is to take Service Learning to the next level," said Luke Frazier, chief of the Service Learning program. "That next level is consistency and quality throughout the state."

MSDE Bulletin
School & Community Outreach Office
Maryland State Department of Education
200 W. Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Web site:

Ronald Peiffer
Assistant State Superintendent

Lauren Proutt