Friday, December 06, 2013 6:15 AM
Published on: Thursday, January 17, 2013
By Brian Compere
For the fifth straight year, Education Week awarded Maryland with the nation’s top score, a B-plus, in its annual “Quality Counts” report.
The score for each state was calculated based on scores in six categories, including measures of school finances, K-12 achievement and a “chance for success” measure that considers factors ranging from students’ parental income to high school graduation rates.
Maryland scored a “B” in all categories except for an “A” in the “transitions and alignment” category, which focuses on early childhood education and readiness for college and the workforce. By comparison, the national average score was a “C-plus.”
“One thing that shows every year is that Maryland makes a strong commitment to education,” said Dana Tofig, spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools. “We have always placed high value on education and made it a point of civic pride, and that has certainly shown.”
Amy Hightower, director of the research center at Editorial Projects in Education, which conducted the rankings for Education Week, agreed: “Maryland is a pretty well rounded state. This stuff does change slowly, but to have five years in the number one spot is a pretty big accomplishment.”
The category in which Maryland received the lowest score is “K-12 Achievement,” which still had a 83.9% grade that ranks third nationally.
The only category in which Maryland does not rank in the top ten nationally is one devoted to academic standards, assessment and accountability. However, this category is particularly strong nationwide, as Maryland received a “B-plus” grade that still ranks above the average score – a “B.”
Montgomery County likely made significant contributions towards Education Week’s high ranking: In U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 ranking of the nation’s best high schools, Montgomery County schools held Maryland’s top seven spots. Winston Churchill High School led the state with a national ranking of 57.
“Certainly Montgomery County is very proud of being in the Maryland school system and the role we play in contributing to this ranking,” Tofig said. “We invest, devote resources and invest ourselves in education. It’s a point of pride in the state.”
“Quality Counts” placed particular focus this year on the impact of a school’s social and disciplinary environment on students’ ability to learn and on the teachers and administrators tasked with guiding them, according to the report.
“The number one way to keep school safe is to have a good school environment,” Tofig said. “There’s an adult in that building that knows every child, and that’s not just the job of counselors, but everyone to make sure that we are engaged in the day-to-day well-being in our students’ lives.”
This is particularly important now due to doubts regarding school safety in the wake of the December shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, he said.
Tofig added that Montgomery County has emphasizes developing two other main skill sets – aside from strong academics – that students should learn before they graduate in order to be successful: creative thinking skills and social skills.
These, he said, allow students to apply what they have learned to realistic situations, to problem solve and to effectively work with others. He added that this is what industry leaders are looking for in future employees.
“Schools are not necessarily designed to teach like that, but we are continuing to grow that in our schools,” Tofig said.
“There is plenty to suggest [Maryland’s] approaches are working,” Hightower said. “Maryland’s really great.”