March 7, 2001 Vol. 12, No.3

Readiness Study Opens New Look at Education

The pilot report from Maryland's first study of the readiness of children to enter kindergarten shows that 40.1 percent of students were assessed fully ready for their first formal step in education. A few states measure school readiness, but Maryland is the first state to produce an extensive report on a consistent measurement of kindergarten skills and abilities.

"Children Entering School Ready to Learn" was prepared by the State Department of Education and based upon readiness information from more than 1,300 teachers who were trained to use the Work Sampling System (WSS) prior to the 2000-2001 school year. About 23,000 kindergarten students statewide (approximately 30 percent), including samples from each of Maryland's 24 local school systems, were evaluated in November 2000 in seven defined areas. The report showed that 50.3 percent were "approaching" readiness upon entering kindergarten and 9.6 percent were rated "developing." Students "approaching readiness" inconsistently demonstrated skills, behaviors and abilities needed to meet kindergarten expectations and require targeted support. Students rated "developing" did not demonstrate those skills and require considerable support.

The report stemmed from a request by the Maryland General Assembly's Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families, co-chaired by Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer and Delegate Mark K. Shriver. 

"The importance of this preliminary report, and the more detailed ones we will receive in the future, may well hold the key to reaching our goal of ensuring that all children will learn," said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.

In the seven major categories that teachers were asked to observe and document their students' learning during the first six weeks of the school year, the percent of students rated fully ready for kindergarten were: 48.3 percent in social and personal development; 34.7 percent in mathematical thinking; 33.8 percent in social studies; 50.9 percent in physical development; 34.7 percent in language and literacy; 20.5 percent in scientific thinking and 43.2 percent in the arts. 

Girls performed significantly better overall, rating 46 percent fully ready to 35 percent for boys.

Minority Achievement Report Targets Means to Close the Gap

JThe high-level panel studying achievement in Maryland schools has recommended strong pursuit of State Board initiatives as the best means of closing the gap between the standard and minority students.

"Minority Achievement in Maryland at the Millennium" was presented to the State Board at its February 27 meeting. The 263-page report of the Achievement Initiative for Maryland's Minority Students (AIMMS) Steering Committee was laden with data targeting the gap in each of the state's 24 local systems.

The report recommended an intensified collection of additional disaggregated data that would lead to further analysis on both racial and economic levels. It cited the need to provide experienced and certified teachers in schools with the highest rates of poverty and large minority enrollments. 

The AIMMS committee stressed that teachers at these schools must be encouraged to continue their professional development and have easy access to a developmental system. The report emphasized that Maryland must fund and implement the State Board's proposal for academic intervention, particularly in early grades.

The report notes that the State Department of Education has already implemented a significant number of programs to address the achievement gap and notes that a number of Maryland's local school systems have begun major efforts.

"This report is truly a benchmark in American education," Committee Chairman Barbara Dezmon told the Board. "I hope it becomes a model for the rest of the country."

Diplomas, H.S. Assessments Addressed

The work group studying High School Assessments and diplomas has suggested keeping a single state diploma, holding off on adding diploma endorsements and having each local school system establish incentive programs as a means of getting students to seriously approach the early years of the upcoming High School Assessments.

The State Board, at its February meeting, accepted the report that additionally recommended that in the early years of the High School Assessments, individual student results should be reported by proficiency level, not pass-fail. The group also suggested that the current certificate awarded to students who cannot meet regular graduation requirements be replaced by a "Certificate of Program Completion."

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick in June 2000 asked for a study on these issues after the State Board voted to delay implementation of the assessments as a graduation requirement. Now the first class required to pass the assessments to earn a diploma will be the ninth graders entering in fall 2003. Field testing of the assessments in Phase I (end of course exams in algebra, geometry, government, biology and English I) will continue in May. Ninth graders entering in the fall of 2001 and 2002 will take the assessments without graduation implications. The work group sought ideas to inspire students in those years.

"The group was concerned that if the testing program is perceived as just another exercise in sorting and selecting students, the program will divide students and will create the unintended consequence of becoming a disincentive to taking schoolwork seriously," the report said.

Endorsements on diplomas relating to the assessments are premature, the group concluded, and should be addressed after all three phases of the assessment program are in place. The group backed continuation of awarding a single diploma certifying "that a basic set of requirements have been met by all students."
The group decided that awarding items such as fast food coupons for doing well on the assessments "trivializes the academics." It recommended providing guidance starting in middle schools on the value of achievement on the assessments in regard to college, scholarships and prospective employment.

Collaboration of Colleges May Help Teacher Candidates

A source of long-time frustration among potential teacher candidates at Maryland colleges may be close to being resolved.

A presentation to the State Board of Education in February by the Maryland Higher Education Commission's committee on teacher education programs at community colleges pledged to resolve the problem of students losing earned credits when they transfer to four-year colleges. 

An overhaul of teacher candidate programs would allow full transfer of credits from the state's two-year colleges to its four-year colleges with teacher education programs.

"This program will allow seamless transition to four-year colleges without any loss of credits," said Martha Smith, president of Anne Arundel Community College. "Our goal is to have a program in place by late spring or early summer."
It is hoped this collaboration will produce more teacher candidates among junior college students.

"This will be a fabulous recruiting tool," said Dr. Smith.

Struggling Schools Need Certified Teachers

Schools operating under local reconstitution in Baltimore City and Prince George's County have a higher percentage of teachers holding provisional certificates than the state average-and the average in their respective systems overall.
A certification study presented to the State Board of Education in February documented the need to improve the strength of the professional staff at many of the 102 statewide schools under local reconstitution.
As of January 17, the 1,375 schools statewide had an average of 7.7 percent of teachers holding provisional certificates. In Baltimore City, 22.8 percent of all teachers hold provisional certificates, but in schools under local reconstitution, the figure increases to 32.6 percent. In Prince George's, 16.4 percent of teachers hold provisional certificates, but in schools under local reconstitution, 22.2 percent hold provisional certificates.

"What is troubling to us is the disparity in some schools," said Margaret Trader, assistant state superintendent for the Division of Instruction.
It was agreed a greater effort must be made to strengthen the professional staff in locally reconstituted schools to hasten their drive toward improvement. 

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

Neil Greenberger