Cecil County Schools Get Middling Grades on New State ‘Report Card;’ Three Elementary Schools Shine

December 11, 2018


A new state “report card” on the quality of local schools gave top rankings to just three Cecil County elementary schools—Calvert, Charlestown and Kenmore—while most middle and high schools scored the middle rank, with three stars on a five-star rating scale. The new state system is designed to broaden measures of school quality to reach beyond just test scores, which in the past have been criticized as too one-dimensional to reflect the full range of student achievement.

Dr. Jeffrey Lawson, the new superintendent of Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS), told the Cecil County Council at a Tuesday morning (12/11/2018) worksession in Elkton, that “We’re pleased, generally speaking” and “There are not a lot of surprises” in the state report card on local schools.

Lawson acknowledged that low scores on the state-mandated PARCC (“Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers”) test had been a problem on past state evaluations of local schools. “PARCC is a very difficult test,” he said. The state is shifting to a new test next year, so future ratings will not include the troublesome PARCC performance results.

The new assessment system, which assigns ratings for each school in the state from one star to five stars, includes standardized test performance but expands quality measures to include attendance and absentee rates, quality of curriculum, and graduation rates

Statewide, according to the state Department of Education, there were 219 schools that received the top five-star rating, with Montgomery County having the most five-star ratings: 50 schools. There were 35 schools receiving the lowest one-star rating and most of them—23—were in Baltimore City. Overall, the largest number of schools were ranked at the four-star level –564 schools—while 356 schools received three stars and 145 were rated as two-star schools.

Overall, 60 percent of schools statewide scored the two highest rankings of four or five stars. Nearby Harford County had an impressive result, with 70 percent of its schools receiving a four- or five-star rating. And in Carroll County, 36 out of 38 schools won four- or five-star rankings.

In Cecil County, elementary schools showed the best results, with 3 five-star schools and 10 four-star schools out of 17 elementary schools. The top ranked elementary schools—Calvert, Charlestown and Kenmore, with five-star rankings—were joined by 10 four-star schools. Just four elementary schools—Bay View, Gilpin Manor, Holly Hall and Thomson Estates—were ranked as three-star schools.

There were no five-star schools at the middle school or high school level in the county. Two out of 6 middle schools won the four-star rank while just two out of 5 high schools rated the four-star level, with the remainder scoring three stars. There were no two-star or one-star rated schools in Cecil County.

The top-rated middle schools in Cecil County, receiving four stars, were Rising Sun and Cherry Hill, with the rest of middle schools ranked at the three-star level. For High Schools, Bohemia Manor and Rising Sun ranked four stars, while the remaining three schools were accorded a three-star rating.

The Cecil County School of Technology (CCST) was not given a rating under the new state system, which the state Board of Education said was due to the school not meeting the overall criteria for inclusion. CCST is not a “comprehensive” high school where students take all their coursework. Instead, students remain enrolled at their “home” high school while spending part of their days, for one semester in junior year and another in senior year, taking technical coursework at CCST.

Lawson told the County Council that in fact the CCST students helped boost the rankings of their home schools because they are highly motivated, have excellent attendance rates and the fact that many CCST students achieve career certifications proves they are “ready” for post-high school success, which is a rating factor under the new state report card system. The performance of CCST students is “through the roof,” Lawson said.

Lawson said that the overall results suggest that CCPS may need to re-evaluate some of its longstanding policies to make them more in line with the state’s educational review standards. In particular, he said that the current CCPS policy that allows a student to be absent 25 days before absenteeism is factored into their grades might need to be revised. The state standard is 10 days, he said.

The new state evaluation report calculated that the “attendance rate” for all CCPS schools was 92.6 percent.

Burrowing down into the details of the state evaluation system, CCPS had some troublesome areas in accumulating “points” under the rating system, according to data from the state Department of Education.

For high schools, a total possible score for “academic achievement” was 30 points, but CCPS high schools yielded just 14.2 points. For “school quality and student success,” the top rating was 25 points, but CCPS high schools yielded just 10.3 points.

For middle schools, the top available “points” for “academic achievement” were 20 but CCPS received just 10 points on the evaluation. For “school quality and student success,” out of a possible 25 points, CCPS middle schools achieved 14.8 points.

For elementary schools, out of 20 possible points for “academic achievement,” CCPS schools overall received 10 points. But the elementary schools fared better on “school quality and student success,” achieving 19.4 points out of a possible 25 points.

Lawson’s appearance before the County Council to discuss the “report card” was welcomed by lawmakers, who praised him for coming to the Council to keep members up to date on current education issues and not just showing up at budget time to plead for more money.

Sources told Cecil Times that the schools have drafted preliminary plans to ask the county government for a major budget increase in the upcoming Fiscal 2020 budget year. In addition, a state commission is slated to send a massive new school spending initiative to the General Assembly in January that would infuse some $4 billion in new education spending throughout the state over several years, including higher teacher salaries. There are no estimates as yet for how much such proposals might cost individual counties, which jointly finance education programs along with the state government.

[UPDATE: CCPS presented to the County Council a school-by-school list of ratings under the new state “report card” program, which grades schools on a one to five star system, with five stars being the top rank:

HIGH SCHOOLS: Four Stars: Bohemia Manor and Rising Sun. Three Stars: Elkton, North East, and Perryville (The School of Technology was not rated since it is a specialized program and not a full, comprehensive high school.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS: Four Stars: Cherry Hill and Rising Sun. Three Stars: Bohemia Manor, Elkton, North East, and Perryville.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS: FIVE STARS (top rating): Calvert, Charlestown and Kenmore.

Four Stars: Bainbridge, Cecil Manor, Cecilton, Chesapeake City, Conowingo, Elk Neck, Leeds, North East, Perryville, and Rising Sun.

Three Stars: Bay View, Gilpin Manor, Holly Hall, and Thomson Estates.]

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