In the first public schools report card since the pandemic, Baltimore City and county were near the bottom of the performance list, and a closer look at state data helps explain why schools in the two districts did so poorly.
The Maryland State Department of Education considers multiple factors, like state test scores, access to a well-rounded curriculum, and graduation rates, to tally how well each school performed in the 2021-22 school year.
On the Maryland School Report Card’s five-star scale, one- and two-star rated schools are considered below average. Baltimore City had 112 schools, or 75% of its schools, rated below average and the county had 38, or 23%. Anne Arundel County, the district with the third-highest number of low-performing schools in the region, had only six schools with one- or two-star ratings.
Chronic absenteeism, English learning proficiency and vulnerable students’ test scores played a role in the results. Here’s a breakdown:
1. City students missed too much school
Chronic absenteeism, when students miss at least 10% of school days, was a huge issue for Baltimore City schools during the pandemic, and Theresa Jones, chief achievement and accountability officer, said it hasn’t subsided. Out of the 15 points city schools could earn for good attendance toward their ratings, elementary schools earned 1.5 points, middle schools earned three points and high schools earned one point.
Attendance is worth 15% of the district’s overall grade and is the highest weighted metric.
2. English learners made slow progress
More than 11% of Baltimore City students were English learners last year, meaning English was not their first language and they were not yet proficient speakers. In Baltimore County, those students made up more than 9% of the population.
The state report cards for both the city and county showed many of those students weren’t making sufficient progress toward learning English.
Of the 10 points a district can earn for English learners’ progress, the city’s elementary schools earned 5.3 points. Middle schools earned 2.1 points and high schools received 3.7.
Jones said some of English learners enter school without a formal education, and that it takes a lot of work to get them on track academically, on top of improving their language proficiency.
The county’s elementary schools snagged 7.5 points in the proficiency category. However, the middle schools only received 2.7 points and high schools earned 2.9.
In a March 8 message to the school community, Baltimore County Superintendent Darryl Williams, who is leaving the district after this school year, noted that the report card gives insight but is a “limited snapshot” of the system’s progress.
“We have taken immediate and strategic steps to address learning gaps and have re-energized our efforts to narrow achievement gaps across the district,” his message read.
3. Vulnerable students had low test scores
City and county students’ poor performance on a state assessment had a negative impact on the report card results. There were three groups who scored lowest in both districts: students with disabilities, English learners and low-income students. The groups make up 88% the city’s population and 58% of the county’s, though some students may overlap between groups.
These students were also considered the most vulnerable during the pandemic. The transition to online learning made for an ineffective learning environment for those who depended on in-person support.
In the city, only 13% of all high school students were proficient in math, according to Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program test scores. That number gets lower among middle and elementary students, and it hardly breaks 7% among low-income students. Only 5% of students with disabilities were proficient. The highest proportion of English learners proficient in math came from elementary students, at 5.3%.
English learners did better in English Language Arts, though only 10.4% of the high schoolers were proficient. That number is lower among high school students with disabilities, at 6.5%.
Overall, 42% of the city’s high schoolers were proficient in English. Low-income high schoolers achieved 34.9% proficiency.
In the county, the numbers in both math and English Language Arts are slightly higher. Both elementary and high school students were 28% proficient in math. Only 10.4% of middle schoolers were proficient.
But, like the city, the numbers drop off among vulnerable student groups. Fewer than 5% of middle schoolers with disabilities were proficient in math. High schoolers in the same group didn’t do much better. Fewer than 5% of middle and high school English learners were proficient in math, and the same goes for low-income middle school students.
More high school students with disabilities were proficient on English tests than in 2019, but that number was only 15.3% last year. And 10% of English learners in high school were proficient, though the elementary learners doubled that score.