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November 8, 2012
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Lillian M. Lowery, Ed.D., State Superintendent of Schools

A few words from State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery

Has everyone dried off? Superstorm Sandy closed schools throughout Maryland and disrupted the lives of each one of us. Our coastal counties dealt with significant flooding and power outages. Garrett County schools, slammed by a snow storm, spent a week digging out.

Thank goodness Sandy did less damage in our State than some had predicted. Our neighbors to the north, such as New Jersey and New York, were less fortunate. Our thoughts and hearts go out to those living in the affected areas.

In addition, we’d like to thank the efforts of the Maryland Emergency Management Administration (MEMA), which prepared our State so well for the storm and its potential impact. State agencies were mobilized to deal with the storm’s impact, and MSDE was represented at MEMA headquarters throughout the duration of the crisis. Being well prepared is always the key when confronting Mother Nature’s less benevolent side.

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October was National Bullying Prevention Month, and many Maryland schools participated in this important event. MSDE joined with the University of Maryland at College Park to hold our third annual State Conference on the Prevention of Bullying and Harassment last month, and it was gratifying to see representation from school systems throughout State. It is clear that our educators take this problem very seriously.

The Maryland State Board of Education, in its policy making role, has clearly stated that all students have a right to an educational environment free from all forms of harassment. A serious threat to that safe environment is the presence of bullying in our communities and schools.

Bullying is a form of violence that affects everyone. Students and case histories have shown that not only are the victim and bully affected, but those who see or hear bullying also suffer negative consequences. Many witnesses fear that they will become the next victim and fail to get involved. These bystanders often suffer the same negative emotional effects as the bullies and victims.

We now know that bullying is not just a rite of passage—it has long term and serious results. Bullying can lead to low self-esteem, depression, isolation, and alienation in both the bully and the victim long after the incidents have ended. In addition, many victims of bullying do not want to come to school, leading to disengagement from the classroom and all that is offered by public education.

Thank you for your considerable efforts in this area. Parents I’ve talked to have noticed the work our schools are doing. They also understand every school’s critical role in preventing bullying behavior. Working together with parents we can make our schools and our classrooms the positive learning environments we all want them to be.

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November is Native American/American Indian Heritage Month

November 11-17 – International Education Week

November 11-17 – American Education Week

December 17 – State Board Meeting, Baltimore

News from the Board
September 26, 2012
The Board discusses at length PARCC -- the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career. The group plays a decisive role in setting standards for end-of-course tests from 3rd grade through high school, and Maryland works with higher education to make the system even better. Also, AP. and SAT test updates, Board Briefs, and more.

In the News

State Show Progress on Graduation
WBAL Channel 11

More Maryland Students Passing High School Assessments
Baltimore Sun

State Superintendent Helps Pocomoke Elementary Celebrate Success
Salisbury Daily Times

Wheaton High School is a Model of Project-Based Learning
Washington Post

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Maryland students are receiving diplomas at the highest rate in recent history, according to data released last week by the Maryland State Department of Education.

MSDE last week briefed the State Board on high school graduation progress.

MSDE last week briefed the State Board on high school graduation progress.

Maryland last year moved to the cohort graduation rate, which follows a set group of students from freshman year through their senior year, better tracking their progress.  The four-year cohort graduation rate jumped nearly a full percentage point between 2010 and 2011, from 81.97 to 82.82 percent.  The five-year cohort graduation rate – those students completing their diploma in five years – improved from 84.57 to 85.51.

Four-year cohort data for 2012 will be available next year, after summer data is finalized.

“The more you learn, the more you earn and improving high school graduation rates in our State is critical to building a highly-skilled and competitive workforce,” said Governor Martin O’Malley.  “Together, we can create a stronger economy and a better future for our children.”

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery agreed, noting that a high school diploma represents the first step in gaining the requisite preparation for a student’s next step, be it workforce or college.

“The data offer good news, but there remain too many students who leave our classrooms prior to graduation,” Dr. Lowery said. “That must continue to change.”

Data disaggregated by student subgroup finds some mixed success.  Four-year cohort graduation rates for African American, Asian, and White students improved between 2010 and 2011, with African American graduation rising the most of any subgroup – more than two full percentage points, from 74.02 percent to 76.09 percent.

At the same time, the four-year cohort graduation rate for Hispanic students fell, from 73.44 to 71.77 percent.  The graduation rate for students of two or more races also fell, from 93.42 percent to 91.17 percent, but that rate ranked second only to the Asian graduation rate of 93.1 percent.

Among students receiving special services, the four-year cohort graduation rate rose nearly two points for special education students, was relatively flat for students receiving free- or reduced price meals, and fell nearly two points for English Language Learners.  Many special education and English Language Learners attend school an additional year to gain skills necessary for the workforce or higher education.

The 2011-2012 senior class was the fourth one for whom passing the High School Assessments (HSAs) in algebra/data analysis, biology, and English was a graduation requirement.   An exam in government stopped being administered last year, but action by the General Assembly in the spring means that the exam returns in the 2012-2013 school year. Government will be a graduation requirement for those students who enter ninth grade in 2013-2014 and beyond.

Early data for 2012 found that nearly 60,000 students completed high school in 2011-12 – 58,792 receiving diplomas and 816 receiving special education certificates.  Only one student missed getting a diploma solely because of failure to meet the Maryland high school graduation requirements.

Of the students who received a diploma in the spring, more than 90 percent met the HSA requirement through examination.  Only 9.64 percent—5,669 students—met the requirement through the alternative Bridge Plan for Academic Validation.  The Bridge Plan is the project-based alternative to the HSA exams.

There also continues to be improvement on the dropout rate, with dropout patterns among student subgroups mirroring the graduation rates.  African American, Asian, and White dropout rates fell, while the rate for Hispanic students and those students of two or more races increased.  Subgroup data shows that while the dropout rate decreased for special education students, it rose from 24.29 to 27.93 percent for English Language Learners.

Annual immigration patterns affect the composition of the ELL student group, since students arrive throughout the year and English proficiency levels vary.  High school students arriving with little or no formal education in their native language have particular difficulties in high school.

The new high school and system data are now available on the updated website.


Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship, an English teacher at Rising Sun High School in Cecil County, has been named the 2012-13 Maryland Teacher of the Year.

Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship

Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery made the announcement during a dramatic gala in a ballroom filled with educators and dignitaries. Among those in attendance were Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Rep. Donna Edwards, Rep. John Sarbanes, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Attorney General Douglas Gansler.

"Great education begins with outstanding teaching, and Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship is an exemplary educator," said Maryland State Board of Education President Charlene Dukes. "Her work, and that of all of our local Teachers of the Year, is heartwarming and inspiring. With teachers like these, Maryland students are in great hands."

Dr. Lowery said Maryland schools receive national accolades in large part because of the strength of its teaching force. "Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship exemplifies what it means to be a Maryland educator," she added. "She's a tireless instructor, fully committed to her students and their academic progress. Her work reflects well on all of us."

Ms. Holmes-Blankenship teaches 10th and 11th grade students, helping them develop critical thinking and inquiry skills through the exploration of literature and the processes of writing, speaking, and listening. She writes county curriculum, is a member of the School Improvement Team, participates in professional learning communities, facilitates school and county professional development, and mentors student teachers.

The path to becoming Maryland Teacher of the Year was not always smooth. Ms. Holmes-Blankenship said she didn't always believe that education was important for her. She is from a large, working class family for whom economic and academic successes were elusive. Ms. Holmes-Blankenship credits several of her teachers with her transformation from a girl contemplating dropping out of school, to a girl desiring to go to college. She worked and borrowed her way through, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from college.

Ms. Holmes-Blankenship graduated Summa Cum Laude from Towson University in 1995, with a Bachelor of Science degree in English. She also holds a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from McDaniel College in 2005. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Naming this year's Teacher of the Year was a very difficult decision for the panel of judges. All seven finalists were outstanding. The other finalists were Patricia DiLeonardi, Carroll County; Kerrie Seberg, Charles County; Lisa Young, Howard County; Bernadette Scheetz, St. Mary's County; Katie C. White, Talbot County; and Christina Hammer-Atkins, Washington County.

The Maryland Education Bulletin is published by Maryland State Department of Education, 200 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201. 410-767-0600. 410-333-6442 TTY. 1-888-246-0016. Interim State Superintendent of Schools Bernard J. Sadusky.  Stephen Brooks, Deputy State Superintendent, Office of Finance. John E Smeallie, Deputy State Superintendent, Office of Administration. James H DeGraffenreidt, Junior, President, State Board of Education. Martin O’Malley, Governor. A publication of the Office of Academic Policy. Bill Reinhard and Gail Tucker, Editors. MSDE Videos: