Commissioners argue test scores with superintendent

The Kent County Commissioners voiced concerns about test scores with Superintendent Karen Couch Tuesday, July 20. From left are Kent County Commissioners Tom Mason, president, Bob Jacob and Ron Fithian.

CHESTERTOWN — Superintendent Karen Couch had an appointment with the Kent County Commissioners during their meeting on Tuesday, July 20.

According to the agenda, Couch sought approval for the appointment of herself as the interim Kirwan implementation coordinator for fiscal year 2022. “Kirwan” is shorthand for a comprehensive set of state education reforms called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

President of the Kent County Commissioners Tom Mason and Commissioner Bob Jacob were vocal about wanting the implementation coordinator to be a third party, citing accountability.

“We need to have third-party people that are looking at some of this, and this is nothing against you but, you have a job. Your job is to govern our schools, be superintendent of our schools, make our schools better. Not to be doing this, I don’t think,” Mason told Couch.

Because the role of the coordinator is still unknown — with County Attorney Tom Yeager saying there is no penalty for non-compliance — Mason suggested they wait to appoint someone until the roles are better defined.

Commissioner Ronald Fithian suggested sending county Chief Finance Officer Pat Merritt along with Couch to the meetings as co-interim coordinators, “so we see it from both sides.”

After the 40-minute discussion on Kirwan — which resulted in Merritt and Couch being named co-interim coordinators, pending approval from the Board of Education — Couch began to stand when Mason said “you’re not done yet.”

What started out as a discussion about Kirwan turned into a discussion about a citizens advisory board and test scores.

Jacob then made a motion that the commissioners support the forming of a citizens advisory board, which was talked about at a Kent County Board of Education meeting on Monday, July 12. The Board of Education has the authority to appoint such a panel, not the county.

“We know that we can’t make this happen, but we just wanted to tell you that we do support the citizens advisory board,” Jacob said.

“We do have a current citizens advisory committee in place at this time,” Couch said. “It’s not a board citizens advisory committee, but we do have a citizens advisory committee. ... Had you made contact with me — a courtesy call — I would have told you that we do have one in place already.”

Couch said that based on what the Board of Education is interested in doing, there will probably end up being two citizen advisory committees.

“My thought here is we would want as many boards as possible with (test) scores the way they are. ... We need all hands on deck with what I’m looking at here,” Jacob said.

“I mean I’ve got a granddaughter that’s going into second grade and when I see this I’m like, ‘Well she’s going to come out of here dumber than she was when she started,’” Mason said.

Couch did not have copies of the scores the commissioners were looking at, but said there was more to the story.

She also said some of the scores in question were not standardized testing scores, but rather scores from students within intervention programs.

“Well it’s still not very good,” Mason said of test scores.

“I didn’t know we were going to talk about all this. You guys blind-sided me in that regard so I don’t have all the information in front of me,” Couch said.

She encouraged the commissioners to attend the work session about academic achievement data on Thursday, July 22 if they wanted to hear more about how KCPS ranks.

The conversation then shifted when Fithian asked if students who didn’t pass were being held back.

“If one of them teachers told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re gonna push you on through anyhow,’ I can’t imagine how little I would have done,” Fithian said. “I wouldn’t have done anything if I knew that. The reason I did as much as I did was I was scared I would be held back from my friends.”

“We know you weren’t prepared for this, but we had you here,” Mason said. “I know you weren’t prepared for it but it’s some of the concerns we have.”

“We’re not mad at you. Maybe it sounded like we were. It’s not an easy job, we realize that. We’re all in this together,” he said.

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