NEWARK — Coming into the new school year, evaluations for teachers and schools are changing at the state level. However, Worcester County Board of Education officials promised that no matter how they are measured by the state county schools will strive for the same goals that they always have.
“Our expectations don’t change,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis.
With the release of this year’s Maryland State Assessment (MSA) scores last week, Worcester once again found itself at the top of the list.
“I’m exceptionally pleased to see these types of results,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson. “We’re performing at the highest level in the state in both reading and math.”
Once the scores for grades 3-8 are cumulated, Gaddis explained that Worcester is the overall top ranked school system out of all 24 Maryland counties. But the switch this year from Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) to Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) as an evaluation of a school’s progress means that even with the best test scores in the state, not all schools in Worcester may receive the highest academic ranking.
“That’s going to be a hard thing for our parents to understand,” said Gaddis.
Gaddis noted that Showell Elementary School (SES), which had close to a 100-percent proficiency in test scores, may not fall into the first out of five ratings on the School Progress Index (SPI), as judged by the AMO. Despite this, Gaddis stated that Worcester is incredibly proud of the school, which was one of the highest performing in the state.
“We are not upset at 97.7 percent,” he said.
If SES doesn’t meet AMO, which is still uncertain, Gaddis stressed that there would be no penalty.
While it may seem confusing that one of the best scoring schools in the state might not meet the new measurement criteria, Gaddis pointed out that AMO works at a much more individual basis than AYP.
Under AMO, every school and every sub-group in those schools are measured for increased performance every year. According to Gaddis, if AMO isn’t reached, which the county should learn in the near future, then it will only be missed by the barest of threads.
“It comes out to one student,” he said.
The extreme attention of AMO on every sub-group of students making progress does have benefits, noted Wilson.
“It does keep you focused on the progress of every single student,” he said. “It creates focus independently on schools and students.”
Wilson added that the “bar has been raised” with the AMO, especially in regards to meeting “international benchmarks.”
But classification changes and categorizations won’t alter Worcester’s educational goals, reiterated Gaddis.
“You can make us a one or a two [on the SPI] but no matter what you make us we’re number one in the state,” he said of Worcester’s test scores.
One thing Wilson hopes to see during the transition to new modes of progress measurement is more fluid testing. While Worcester may have topped the MSA this year and has a history of excellence on the test, Wilson pointed out that schools receive test scores often too late to help shape student’s schedules around how they are performing.
“One criticism of these types of assessments is that they’re more like autopsies,” he admitted.
“We can’t use MSA instructionally … you get them into a pattern and it’s very hard to change things,” he said.
Besides the switch from AYP to AMO Worcester, along with others in the state, will be using a new kind of teacher evaluation starting this school year. Like AMO, the new system will pay much more attention to individual performance and pre-set goals. Additionally, many teachers in non-traditionally tested areas like art, music, and gym will be under evaluation.
Though Gaddis confirmed that “change is hard” for a lot of teachers, he said that the vast majority are looking forward to the new evaluations.
“We have not received more than one or two negative comments,” he said.
This is because the new system will allow for progress goals to be custom tailored for each teacher with the help of their administrators.
“They’re really going to guide their own professional development and evaluation,” said Gaddis, who added that teachers are “very positive” about working to set their own benchmarks for students.
He admitted that in traditionally untested subjects like art and music, setting realistic and quantifiable goals might take time and effort but explained that the new evaluations will only be tried out in Snow Hill schools this year as part of a pilot program before eventually being incorporated throughout Worcester.