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July 2008
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Nancy S. Grasmick

A few words from State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick

Welcome to the first issue of the Maryland Education Bulletin, your biweekly guide to education policy and performance in our state.  This new, Web-based newsletter replaces the MSDE Bulletin, published for the past 19 years by our Department.  We hope you like this format, and welcome your suggestions.

Maryland is fortunate to have one of the nation’s finest public school systems, thanks to tens of thousands of energetic educators, creative instructional leaders, and supportive parents working throughout the State to make our classrooms the best they can be.  The result: our schools are filled with scores of remarkable students.
maggie tighe
Maggie Tighe

The State Board last week welcomed one such student, Maggie Tighe, an 11th grader at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.  Maggie is a winner of the national “Letters About Literature” program, sponsored by the Library of Congress, Target, and in Maryland by the Maryland Humanities Council.  The program invites students in grades 4-12 to write a letter to an author, past or present, who inspired them or altered their view of the world or themselves. 

Maggie chose Aldous Huxley, author of the science-fiction satire Brave New World, and her letter was one of six winning letters out of nearly 60,000 entries.  She wrote, “Mr. Huxley, your book opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the world.  I’ve learned to appreciate every aspect of my life—good and bad.”

Wise beyond her years, Maggie hopes to study philosophy one day and perhaps move on to law school.  Students like her shine a warm glow on Maryland education.


Calendar

July 15 — Maryland State Board of Education Meeting, Baltimore

July 30 - August 1 — Maryland Principals Academy, Linthicum


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Strengthening Our Middle Schools
Image of Hardiman and Scarbourough

Mariale Hardiman, Chair, Interdisciplinary Studies in Education at the Johns Hopkins University, and Gerald Scarborough, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Harford County Public Schools, discuss the Middle School Steering Committee Report in front of the State Board.

Middle school students need additional class time and more rigorous math instruction at earlier grades, according to a report released at the State Board meeting last week.

"The Critical Middle: A Reason for Hope," the work of the Maryland Middle School Steering Committee, includes 16 recommendations designed to ignite greater academic improvement in grades six through eight.  The report also calls for increased instruction in foreign languages, improved programs in reading and writing, better teacher preparation, and integrated instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  

"Our middle schools can be a launching pad for higher level learning, and this report offers school systems a variety of ideas to make that happen," said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.  "We are committed to helping students maintain and accelerate their educational progress throughout the middle years."

Educational progress slows across the board in Maryland during the middle school years, mirroring a pattern found nationally.  For example, 80.5 percent of Maryland third-graders score in the proficient range in reading and 78.6 percent in mathematics, while just 68.3 percent of eighth-graders score proficient or better in reading and 56.7 percent in math.  Moreover, while all students are improving, the increases in achievement have been less dramatic at the middle-school level.

Dr. Grasmick established the Middle School Steering Committee in 2006 to help accelerate improvement in those grades. 

Strengthening student performance in the middle grades has been a desire among educators for decades.  The advent of school accountability systems over the past 10 years pinpointed the fact that academic improvement slows once students leave elementary school. 

To prepare students for the difficulty of secondary school, the middle school years need an upgrade in rigor.  Additional instructional time, through an extended school day or more summer programs, is one way to accomplish this.  As local systems add instructional hours, the report says there also should be increased professional time for teachers, so that interdisciplinary teams may engage in collaborative work and plan instruction.

Steering Committee members acknowledged the critical role that caring adults must play during the middle years.  "While a connection to caring adults alone has been shown insufficient to promote achievement gains in the middle grades, a balance between supportive relationships and academic demands promotes both achievement and social/emotional well-being—a balance that is particularly important for the adolescent learner," the report says.

The report calls for all Maryland middle school students to complete algebra by the end of the eighth grade. Among the other recommendations included in the report:

  • Provide students integrated math, science, and technology instruction with a focus on problem-solving and real-world application.
  • Enroll every middle school student in a world language course by the sixth grade.
  • Provide all students instruction in the fine arts that develops literacy in music, dance, theater, and visual arts.
  • Teach information literacy and use technology in all subjects.
  • Provide accelerated and enriched instructional pathways for gifted and talented learners.
  • Ensure that teachers are prepared to work specifically with middle school students.

The Steering Committee has been co-chaired by Gerald Scarborough, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in the Harford County Public Schools, Ilene Swirnow, Director of Elementary and Middle School Initiatives in MSDE's Division for Leadership Development, and Mary Gable, Director of Instructional Programs in MSDE's Division of Instruction.

The full report is available at MarylandPublicSchools.org.

 

English, Math Curriculua Receive Top Grades

matt gandal

Matt Gandal, Executive Vice President, Achieve, Inc.

Maryland's High School Mathematics and English Voluntary State Curricula have been lauded in an independent review.

Achieve, Inc., a national education consulting firm, found that the curricula present student learning expectations that are intellectually demanding and well aligned with the rigorous benchmarks included in the American Diploma Project plans.

"There was a lot of hard work put into this, and it resulted in some very good products," noted Matt Gandal, Executive Vice President of Achieve, in an appearance before the State Board last week.  He noted that increasing the rigor of the high school curricula helps graduates become both work- and college-ready.  "It undergirds the work you are trying to do here," he noted.

Gandal said the strengthened curriculum, along with the requirement that students pass the High School Assessments before receiving a diploma, are important measures to keep in place.  Should that requirement be delayed or rolled back, he told State Board members, "you will have lost something very important to this State."

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