The Maryland Report Card is a website hosted by the Maryland State Department of Education meant to be an informational go-to on our public schools. It maintains a wealth of information on the state education system and each district, right down to individual schools, “to help our stakeholders measure student achievement in all 24 districts from year to year,” as the homepage reads.
Among the metrics included are state test scores through the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, or MCAP. These are the state-mandated assessment exams students take. MCAP is the latest iteration of the state assessment program and, according to State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, maintains models used through the previous Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — or PARCC as some may be more familiar with — testing program.
Last year’s MCAP scores for Kent County Public Schools placed our district low in the state. And when compared to the other eight districts on the Eastern Shore, KCPS frequently came in eighth or ninth for proficiency in English language arts and math.
That is disconcerting news for certain. And, as KCPS Supervisor for Elementary Education Gina Jachimowicz said in an interview Tuesday, there is no significant statistical difference between last year’s MCAP scores and the previous year’s.
“I have reviewed the MCAP Scores and I know that we can do better,” said Kent County Board of Education President Joe Goetz in an email Tuesday. “We need to adjust our approach in how we teach and align the supports needed for our students to be successful.”
KCPS administrators, teachers and staff are seeking to make those adjustments. They are currently revising — in some cases rewriting — the literacy and math curriculums. The effort is being led by Kent County Middle School Principal Mary Helen Spiri, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania and was doing school reform work when hired by KCPS in 2017.
While this curriculum rewrite aimed at bringing the district’s instruction into tighter alignment with state achievement standards is good news, the way it is being done shows the challenges our district faces. Jachimowicz and Tracey Williams, supervisor of secondary education and student services, said in Tuesday’s joint interview that Spiri and her team are meeting on nights and weekends to get this done.
KCPS is the smallest school district in the state. The Maryland Report Card lists enrollment here at 1,912 students. The next smallest district is Somerset County, yet it has over 1,000 more students than KCPS. Caroline County has 5,829 students. Carroll County is one of the top performers in the state, along with Worcester and Queen Anne’s counties. Carroll’s enrollment is 25,179 students. Want your mind blown: Baltimore County, which does not include Baltimore City because it is its own district, has 113,814 students enrolled.
The size of KCPS plays out a couple of ways when looking at MCAP scores and efforts to boost them.
First, the small student body here means it takes only a handful of students to swing the overall proficiency rate, and thereby the district’s standing. As Williams said when presenting the MCAP scores at the October Board of Education meeting, capturing more of the students on the bubble of scoring within state expectations could lead to a big change in KCPS proficiency rates.
Then there is the issue of staffing, which Williams — whose own position was previously divided between two administrators — also mentioned at the October meeting. Other districts, larger districts, have curriculum writers on staff. They have teams developing student assessments to be given throughout the year in preparation of the state tests. Here, Williams said, teachers are developing those intermediary assessments themselves.
This year, the Board of Education agreed to the administrators’ request to add teacher specialist positions to help in such efforts.
“It’s going to pay off. It’s just going to take a little bit of time. We have quality people in those roles and they are moving quickly to make changes,” Jachimowicz said Tuesday.
We certainly hope to see it pay off. We want to see our students achieve. We know they can. Look at the alumni still here and thriving and others who have achieved prominence elsewhere and come back to visit, like Kyle Hackett, who teaches art at American University and spoke last weekend at a student exhibit in Chestertown.
We just need to make sure our students and teachers have the support they need.
Associate Editor Trish McGee, who also is vice president of the Kent County Board of Education, did not contribute to this editorial.