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March 26, 2010
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State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick

A few words from State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick

We just received some terrific news! U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that Maryland will receive more than $47 million to turn around its persistently lowest achieving schools through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. These funds are part of the $3.5 billion that will be made available to states this spring from money set aside in the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"Turning around our worst performing schools is difficult for everyone but it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids," Secretary Duncan said.

I couldn’t agree more. The SIG grant will provide critical resources to help Maryland’s most struggling schools. Our state has had success with turning around chronically underachieving schools, and this will allow us to do even more. All students deserve great schools and a great education.

The $47,247,771 made available to Maryland is being distributed by formula to the state and will then be competed out by the state to school districts. In order for a school district to apply for these funds, it must have a state-identified "persistently lowest achieving" or a Tier III school -- a school that has failed to meet annual yearly progress for two years and is not identified as a persistently lowest achieving school.

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We recently announced the 24 local honorees for this year’s Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Awards, and each one has a story to tell.

I’ve never seen a great school without a great principal, and most great schools and principals have dedicated parent volunteers helping their classrooms to succeed. No other state in the nation has an awards program like Maryland’s, and we appreciate the assistance our program receives from Comcast.

This year’s gala is scheduled for May 6 at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County.

For more information about this year’s semifinalists, click here.

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Maryland’s Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs get stronger every year. Today’s CTE programs prepare students for both college and careers through rigorous programs of study.

It still surprises some people that half of Maryland students in grades 10-12 enroll in CTE courses, but these students understand the benefits. Moreover, nearly half of CTE graduates also complete the coursework necessary for entrance into the University System of Maryland. There are nearly 50 CTE programs in schools across the state, in skill areas ranging from construction to biomedical science.

As the nation’s college basketball fans will be tuned to the Sweet 16 games this weekend, our State’s top CTE students will be in a heated competition themselves: the 37th Annual SkillsUSA Maryland Program. Scores of students will be working for medals, scholarships, recognition, and the chance to go to national competition.

For more information on SkillsUSA Maryland, click here.


March 30 – Comcast Student Scholars Awards, Annapolis

April 10 – Statewide Teacher Recruitment Fair, Baltimore

April 12 – End of the General Assembly Session

April 27 – State Board Meeting, Baltimore

In the News

More Kindergarteners Prepared to Learn

Most Maryland Schools Won’t Make Up Snow Days

National Reading Scores Flat
Washington Post

Maryland Schools Superintendent Talks “Race to the Top”

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Children entering kindergarten in Maryland continue to make strides in their preparation for the classroom, according to a report released this week by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).

2010 Maryland Model for School Readiness (MMSR) Maryland Fully Ready Composite

Children Entering School Ready to Learn—School Readiness Information for School Year 2009-2010,” a report by MSDE’s Division of Early Childhood Development, reveals steady progress across all demographic subgroups.  Maryland students entering kindergarten fully prepared for learning increased by 5 percent from 2009 to 2010, up to 78 percent.  That is up 29 percentage points since the baseline year of 2002.

“Children come into this world with the tools to be active learners, and giving them the right start before they enter kindergarten classrooms provides them with a strong foundation for further learning,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools.  “MSDE is excited with the tremendous progress taking place.”

The annual MSDE study, unveiled before the State Board, reflects assessment information on kindergartners’ readiness levels in social and personal areas, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts, physical development, and health.

Kindergarten readiness has improved significantly since all early care programs were brought under MSDE in 2005.  Since the Division of Early Childhood Development was established, the number of accredited childcare programs has grown significantly and MSDE has established several quality initiatives to improve the early learning opportunities for all children.

Also significant has been the reduction in the achievement gap between students of different ethnicities.  For example, African American children have made dramatic strides since the initial report, rising 34 percentage points overall and narrowing the gap with their peers from 19 points in 2002 to 14 points in 2010.

The MSDE assessment of incoming kindergarten students found improvement across demographic categories in the percentage of students ready for kindergarten work.  For example:

  • School readiness levels for English Language Learners have increased 30 points since 2002, including a 27 point increase in the Language and Literacy domain.
  • The improvement in school readiness for low-income children—students receiving free or reduced price meals—has jumped 34 percentage points since 2002, narrowing the gap from 18 percent to 15 percent.
  • The percent of special education students deemed fully ready for kindergarten improved 21 percentage points since 2002 to 51 percent.

The study results continue to highlight the importance of high-quality early learning opportunities.  Children who spent time in early-care settings started school better prepared for learning than those who remained at home or in the homes of relatives, the research found.  Children enrolled in public school pre-K programs (78 percent fully ready for kindergarten), child care centers (84 percent), and non-public nursery schools (91 percent) the year prior to kindergarten exhibited stronger school readiness levels than those who were at home or in informal care settings the year prior to kindergarten.

Maryland’s annual school readiness report is the result of legislative action to gauge the progress on school readiness skills of incoming kindergartners.  Each year, more than 2,000 kindergarten teachers use an age-appropriate portfolio-based assessment to evaluate their students’ performance on 30 indicators of learning in their classrooms during the first eight weeks of school.  The assessment information in the report reflects scores for each of the seven domains of learning, such as literacy, math, and social skills, as well as the composite score of all domains. 

MSDE is a national leader in the evaluation of early childhood learning, establishing an annual evaluation of what entering kindergartners know and are able to do.  The complete School Readiness report is available on the special MSDE website,


Maryland’s next wave of school reform is coming closer to shore.  The Maryland State Board of Education this week heard a report on progress made by Department officials as they prepare their proposal for the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) program.

MSDE Project Manager Jim Foran and consultant Anand Vaishav meet with the State Board.

MSDE Project Manager Jim Foran and consultant Anand Vaishav meet with the State Board.

Anand Vaishav, project manager for Education First, an organization working with MSDE on its proposal, said that Maryland’s number one ranking provides a strong foundation for further progress.

Maryland should use its number one ranking as a launching pad, “but should not assume that this will be enough to win,” Vaishav said.  He added that the state’s goal for better prepared high school graduates put it on firm footing with the U.S. Department of Education.

RTTT is an unprecedented $4.3 billion federal program designed to strengthen education and turn around chronically underperforming schools.  MSDE has put together a broad coalition of educators and organizations in seeking the RTTT funding, and Vaishav said the State’s process has been laudable, meeting with more than four dozen organizations to develop its plan.

Vaishav cautioned that the State maintain focus on the overarching goal of stronger schools.  “Do not sacrifice boldness for unanimity,” he said.

MSDE intends to apply in for the second round of RTTT grants.  The application is due June 1.  For more information, click here.

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