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Breaking down the Blueprint: Education reform efforts include a focus on college and career readiness standards. Here’s how each school district proposes to do it


Breaking down the Blueprint: Education reform efforts include a focus on college and career readiness standards. Here’s how each school district proposes to do it

Jun 05, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By William J. Ford
Education reform efforts include a focus on college and career readiness standards. Here’s how each school district proposes to do it
The Maryland State Board of Education reviews a report on college and career readiness with some members of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability and Implementation Board on May 23 in Baltimore. Photo by William J. Ford.

The Maryland State Department of Education released an interim report last month to assess what hundreds of thousands of state students did months after graduating high school.

The 154-page report from the American Institute of Research headquartered in Arlington, Va., shows that about 54% of Maryland’s students who graduated between 2017 to 2021 attended a two-year or four-year college or university the same year after completing four years of high school.

Up to 70% of the more than 300,000 students met the state’s college and career readiness standards, which include passing a certain test score in math and English during the 10th grade, according to the report.

The report does not include students who may have started their post-secondary education at least one year after graduating high school. In addition, the report lacks information about students who enrolled in a trade school or immediately entered the workforce.

A final report, which is slated to include some of that information, is scheduled to be completed in August.

The state’s multi-billion-dollar Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan lists college and career readiness as one of the four priorities. The plan includes new efforts on readiness, such as requiring all 24 school systems to implement a student progress monitoring system for ninth graders.

The reforms aim to increase the number of students who enroll in college and expand career and technical education for students who seek to obtain a sustainable career immediately after high school.

“It’s going to be one of the most important things we do as a state, which is setting a new CCR standard,” Mohammed Choudhury, the state superintendent of Maryland public schools, said during a May 23 meeting. “Once we set that standard, other things begin to change around it. That’s not a bad thing, but the question is: What are we going to set the standard on? And are those the right changes that we want changing around it?”

Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said the standards should be equitable. For example, high school students who reside in low-income or rural areas may have limited transportation for in-person dual enrollment classes at a community college.

“If [students] don’t have the means to the college, are we providing transportation? Are we making sure that all students across the state in every high school have those pathways made available to them, and not just in our more affluent schools?” Bost asked. “…We need to make sure that it’s equitable and those opportunities are open to all students, not dependent upon where they live. It’s still a work in progress, but if we get it right, we’re preparing more of our students to go out into the workforce, or at least not incur so much college debt that they will have some of those [college] credits already.”

In the meantime, local school officials continue working on localized Blueprint plans for the 2023-24 school year. The Blueprint’s Accountability and Implementation Board, which is scheduled to meet Thursday, could start approving those plans in July.

All school districts, also known as local education agencies (LEAs), submitted their Blueprint plans to the accountability board in March. As part of the process, school leaders must document responses on how they will implement measures to improve college and career readiness.

All schools systems in the state were required to elaborate on this prompt: “Discuss the LEA’s plans to ensure all freshmen are on track to graduate. Discuss related challenges and the strategies the LEA will leverage to increase the number of freshmen who are on track to graduate.”

Here’s all or part of the responses from each school district:

Allegany – “ACPS will periodically provide a report to the schools so that further academic intervention will be provided. Academic and behavioral tiered interventions are used during the regular school day. There are also tutoring opportunities available. Grades are monitored quarterly and students not meeting expectations will meet with school counselors. Communication will take place, via phone calls, letters, and conferences, with parents of students failing courses. Parents and students will be notified in the fall of their 10th grade year if the student is not on track for graduation. Parents and students will be invited to an academic progress meeting to discuss progress, challenges, and support opportunities. A teacher will be identified to develop a plan alongside students and parents to get the student back on track for graduation. After-school and summer credit recovery programs will be offered. The district is also exploring ways to recognize students for meeting the freshmen on track for graduation status and incentives are also being explored. The district shall report data collected through the 9th grade progress monitoring system to MSDE on or before Sept. 1 each year.”

Anne Arundel – “Utilizing system data, AACPS will provide schools with disaggregated data with initial projects for on-track success. When early warning indicators show that a rising 8th-grade student needs additional support to be successful as a freshman, communication with the high school begins before they enter the freshman class. The eighth-grade middle school summer intensive program provides a bridge to high school. The summer intensive program focuses on improving academic success skills as well as core skills in language arts, math, science, and social studies. Counselors and staff conduct yearly parent events to review graduation requirements each year. Teachers and counselors hold individual success conferences with students and families, as needed, to ensure they are familiar with graduation requirements, coursework, pathways, and resources to be successful. Advisory and Flex periods during the day provide opportunities for guidance and monitoring as students’ progress through their freshman year. AACPS is exploring alternative pathways to credit, such as original credit, in addition to summer recovery and online learning options for students.”

Baltimore City – “To support students being on track to graduate, City Schools will start to implement a new high school strategy in the 2023-2024 school year with different components phased in over the next several years. The strategy has five focus areas:

  • Defining Success (including the development of a “Portrait of a Graduate”)
  • Ninth Grade Success
  • High School Persistence
  • Enhanced Wellness and Safety
  • High School Organizational Structures and Budget Alignment.

While each of these focus areas has a series of associated strategies that are currently in development, in the 2023-2024 school year, the 9th Grade Success priority will include having a dedicated staff member (a Grade 9 coordinator) who will lead and coordinate the 9th grade systems and structures at each school that will support 9th grade academic success and a trajectory toward graduation. We will continue to build on our On Track to Graduate work with professional learning for school staff and data cycles to track progress toward our goals.”

Baltimore County – “BCPS has developed an internal data dashboard using Microsoft Power BI to identify students in Grade 9 and track their progress throughout the year. This dashboard allows schools and their leadership teams to monitor credits earned towards graduation over time, as well as daily attendance and grades with a one-day lag for all students. Through the dashboard, school leadership teams can “drill-through” to access detailed information about classes and days absent. School leadership teams share these data with their Grade 9 teams on a regularly scheduled basis to inform allocation of resources and to monitor interventions to keep identified students on track for graduation. This same process is utilized for every student in each of the cohorts through graduation. Graduation monitoring meetings for cohorts are attended by system leadership and school teams working side by side to proactively devise and monitor interventions to ensure identified students get back and stay on track to graduate. As part of this process, schools are required to submit a monthly monitoring tool reporting their progress including projected graduation rates for all cohorts.”

Calvert – “CCPS followed recommendations from the Roadmap to Implementation in using students’ successful course/grade completion factors to identify students in danger of not graduating on time after 9th grade. Recognizing that students can potentially be identified earlier than at the conclusion of the 9th grade year, CCPS has formed a team to conduct a longitudinal study of approximately 16,000 students to determine what factors before 9th grade predict failure to graduate on time in Calvert County. Nine course-completion “warning flags” have been identified as predictive of student failure to graduate on time such that, in the study, students with zero warning flags graduated on time 96% of the time, students with one warning flag graduated on time 66% of the time, and students with 3 or more warning flags graduated on time 32% of the time. Armed with this information, CCPS is building a multi-tiered system of supports that identifies who needs content support vs. more robust, whole-child support and deliver appropriate counseling, mentoring, and intervention to identify and solve the problem through a root cause process.”

Caroline – “The EL (English language) teachers at North Caroline High School have implemented a mentor program for new EL students to help them feel connected and a sense of belonging in the school environment. New students are assigned a mentor who is a current EL student that can show them around, help them with their schedule, answer questions, etc. Caroline County Public Schools also uses a co-teaching model at the elementary and secondary level. At the secondary level, EL teachers push into classes that are graduation requirements in order to help support EL students in core academic classes. Instructional support staff are used at the elementary, middle and high schools to provide support in classes as well. On-going professional development has been provided to all instructional support staff working with ELs. The types of support offered are based on feedback from the instructional support staff as well as the teachers to ensure that professional development provided is meaningful and addresses the needs of staff. Individual support is also provided by the EL Teacher Specialist and EL Supervisor through coaching and classroom visits.”

Carroll – “To increase the number of students who are on track to graduate, high schools create academic schedules to maximize opportunities for students. The strategic placement and number of sections of specific coursework for freshman will continue to be a top priority for high schools. High schools have identified that engaging students in extra-curricular activities leads to high levels of academic achievement. Schools work hard to encourage students to participate in clubs, fine arts, and athletics to increase attendance and academic achievement. Coaches and club sponsors serve as mentors to students and assist with the importance of being engaged in their academic programs. Challenges around staffing can sometimes cause high schools to re-invent the way they may build a schedule to meet student needs. The lack of teachers can also limit the number of courses we may be able to offer and make it more difficult to offer the number of sections of required courses a freshman needs to take. Our administrators and school counselors also work together to ensure a balanced schedule for our freshman, which includes providing coursework that aligns with a student’s possible post-CCR pathway.”

Cecil – At all CCPS high schools, there is a Freshman Academy structure in place. CCPS also has created a graduation tracker to monitor students’ academic progress by marking period. Students who have failed one or more core courses in English, Math, Science, Social Studies, or World Language will be identified and provided with support. School counselors and building administrators will meet with these students to create a plan moving forward. The plan will include teacher/classroom support, parent involvement, and tutoring after school in Twilight School.

Some of the challenges:

  • The student’s availability for after school support in Twilight School
  • Meeting with each student during the school day to discuss a plan.
  • Motivating students to pass each marking period.
  • Students not attending school on a regular basis.

Solutions to address challenges:

  • CCPS will provide transportation for Twilight School.
  • CCPS will schedule a specific time to meet with students that do not interfere with academic learning.
  • CCPS staff will building a positive relationship with students and encourage them to try their best.
  • CCPS will involve Pupil Personnel Workers to assist in getting students to attend school on a regular basis.

Charles – “Charles County Public Schools updates the data report in the 9th Grade Tracker in the summer prior to each school year. This process started in school year 2022-2023. A team at each school will assemble to analyze the data and discuss appropriate actions for students. Students who are not on track will be enrolled in appropriate support such as grade recovery, attendance supports, referred to the Student Support Team, PBIS, and/or tutoring. The largest challenge when ensuring all freshman are on track to graduate is the need for individualized plans.”

Dorchester – “During the summer of 2023, DCPS will be offering a 9th grade orientation to help incoming 9th graders be prepared for the demands of high school. In addition, we are investigating the budgetary and staffing implications of offering a 9th grade academy.

The following initiatives are being researched for future implementation:

  • 9th Grade Academy with smaller classes in core classes and additional support in how to navigate high school.
  • Revised scheduling options to pair core classes with a smaller “skinny” period where students would receive remediation and support to address skill deficits.
  • Redefining the 90-min instructional block to include core instruction on grade level content with additional small group instruction targeted on skills development.
  • DCPS follows the MTSS model for Tier II and Tier II intervention. This model is a work in progress and is being analyzed to add additional support to help high school students achieve that need remediation and intervention supports. See Linked artifacts below for information about the DCPS MTSS model.”

Frederick – “FCPS has a College and Career Readiness teacher in every high school. CCR teachers monitor the CCR progress of all students in their respective school, but have an intentional focus on monitoring incoming ninth grade students to make sure they are on track to graduate. In addition, the CCR teachers work with feeder middle schools to ensure that incoming ninth grade students are scheduled for a course in each of the five core content areas. FCPS offers dual semesters at the high school level; CCR teachers work with school counselors to assure that students who are failing are provided with remediation and/or re-enrollment in a failed course in the second semester. Although FCPS has powerful data dashboards to inform teachers and assist with monitoring student performance, our goal is to create a simplified data dashboard and a tracking system to monitor individual student data beginning in kindergarten. The tool will allow school teams to identify supports provided to students each year to ensure on track in ninth grade. School counselors will meet with students yearly to review student data and set individual goals.”

Garrett – “Challenges to having all freshman on track to graduate are:

  • Failing classes and falling behind in credit counts toward graduation
  • Lacking grade level content knowledge and skill levels

GCPS strategies to ensure all freshman are on track to graduate include:

  • Offering more high school credits to middle school students to provide more flexibility in their schedules for remediation early in their high school career without falling behind.
  • Partnering with Garrett College to offer remedial credit bearing math courses in 10th grade for students significantly behind grade level as evidenced by universal screener tool (ex. iReady) scores. The curriculum will be built by Garrett College and GCPS staff and based on the developmental courses at the college and count for a math elective. This would be a “double dose” of math, so the student can also take the grade appropriate course.
  • Utilizing the reading coaches to implement research-based programs in the remedial period for 9th grade students who are behind multiple grade levels in reading ability. This won’t compete for credit bearing classes and will help keep students on track to graduate.”

Harford – “HCPS has determined that the following key areas are to be focused upon during quarterly meetings with each of their high school administrations to determine if freshmen are on track to graduate during their freshmen year. These key focus areas include 90% attendance, grade point average of 2.0, passing the four core classes, and passing six overall credits. To assist with the large number of students in 9th grade at each school and the calculations needed to determine success with each of the focus areas, HCPS designed and built a dashboard…called “Early Warning Indicators.” [It] allows for schools to access real-time data relating to freshmen. This data is used to identify students not on track to graduate based on the focus area chosen, [which] can also be combined allowing for a deeper dive into the data. In addition, a demographic field can also be chosen which includes race, gender, students with disabilities, free and reduced, and English language learners. A major challenge of the data being updated daily is the need to track students as they fall on and off the “not on track to graduate” list.”

Howard – “HCPSS has several processes in place to identify and support 9th grade students and ensure they stay on track to graduate. The HCPSS Technology Department has created an early alert dashboard using its data management system, Hoonuit, which identifies students in grades 9–12 who are at risk for not graduating based on students not achieving specific benchmarks of progress toward graduation. The system uses criteria such as attendance and failing grades to flag students who are at risk. This report can be run at any time and provides a list of all students that fall within the risk threshold. Beyond the Hoonuit tool, individual schools run D/E reports, which identify students who are on track to receive a “D” or “E” grade in a course they are currently taking, at least two times a quarter to identify students who are in need of additional support. Schools have regular meetings with 9th grade teams as well as student support teams to discuss the data provided by these reports.”

Kent – “The KCPS 9th grade tracker lists student progress in math, ELA, science, social studies, and a world language. In each of these subject areas, the tracker indicates if the student earned a credit, how many credits they earned, and the name of the specific course. The tracker lists student attendance percentage, service learning hours completed, discipline issues (indicating in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension and discipline referrals during high school), the date of their entry to or withdrawal from KCPS, and if they were promoted to the next grade level. KCPS also uses a Google Sheet Cohort document to track specific testing/assessment data. The 2022 administration of MCAP revealed insufficient student progress toward College and Career Readiness across the state. To increase the number of students designated as CCR, KCPS has developed a CCR Support Pathway. This pathway may be adapted to provide avenues by which students not on track to graduate may receive interventions during the summer, during dedicated school-day intervention blocks, or during after school tutoring experiences.”

Montgomery – “MCPS purchased the Naviance course planner to provide a platform for students to explore post-secondary options and monitor the completion of graduation requirements. MCPS students create a graduation course planner beginning in 8th grade. The students update their course planner each year in high school. The strategy used to keep students on track to graduate on time relates to early awareness, early intervention and [individual] school and districtwide monitoring. School Counselors conduct transcript reviews and meet with students annually during registration to ensure students are enrolled in the appropriate courses needed for graduation. They review data annually and provide services as needed to ensure students are on track to graduate. The graduation requirements and course bulletin are provided to students and parents and discussed during annual parent and student meetings. Technology office has built multiple reports which provide users view of student’s progress on their graduation requirements. Students and parents receive Unofficial Transcripts which are called SGGCR (Students Grades and Graduations Credit) 3-4 times a year online on their Parentvue and Studentvue accounts.”

Prince George’s – “In the beginning of the school year, each school was required to conduct parent/guardian meetings for ninth grade students and families in which the requirements for promotion were shared. Secondly, during each opportunity with high school principals, the Area Team provides professional development around the use of PGCPS’ internal Business Intelligence (BI) Dashboard, which allows for principals and school teams to monitor their individual school’s SMART Goal related to ninth grade promotion and individual student data. Further, the BI provides a quick view for principals and school teams to batch students based on their current achievement in all classes, credits earned, attendance, and completion of student service learning hours. This allows the school team to develop appropriate interventions and supports. There are multiple pathways for students to earn credits if they are experiencing academic difficulty to include PGCPS’ evening virtual program and evening original credit.”

Queen Anne’s – “Students must earn at least 5 of the 8 possible credits taken during the freshmen year in order to be promoted to sophomore standing. Students are monitored biannually through the use of an earned credit report and First Time Ninth Grade cohort field within the district’s Student Information System (SIS). At the midterm reporting mark of the fall semester, freshmen students who are in danger of not earning all their scheduled credits are recommended to the school’s Student Support Team (SST) for monitoring and provision of additional resources including community wrap-around services. At the conclusion of the fall semester, students who have failed to earn credits in the fall may be rescheduled into those courses within the spring semester. Students who are unsuccessful within the spring semester are provided summer school recovery credit options. Throughout the academic year, students who fall behind in earned credits may also be offered recovery credit options through the extended day and/or Saturday School programs at each high school.”

St. Mary’s – “Each of our comprehensive high schools offer the following supports: Transition and Articulation meetings; offering of a Freshman Seminar Course for non-Freshman Academy students; School Improvement Plan goals included a Freshman to Sophomore status goal; Freshman Advisory programs at each high school; robust MTSS tiered supports for both academic and engagement; one-lunch tutoring; peer and staff mentors for new and struggling students; recovery options both during quarterly as well as full course options. [Can] request tutoring services before, during, or after school. Tutoring is done both face-to-face and virtually. Our challenges to increase the number of freshmen who are on track to graduate, include ensuring that all students that need services and supports are identified early and actively engage in that service or support. Continued challenges of decreased student attendance since COVID and working through tiered interventions to increase attendance is a priority. Also challenging is making sure that staff, parents and the students are aware of the supports. Working to better our communication as well as Freshmen attendance will be priorities as we move forward.”

Somerset – “SCPS has identified three main reasons why freshmen do not obtain the credits necessary to stay “on track” to graduate: attendance, apathy towards completing work, and lack of foundational skills necessary to successfully complete work on grade level. SCPS has worked for years (even before Covid) to improve attendance using tracking, incentives, transportation for special groups, and coordinating additional community resources for students that need it. Attendance failures, though, continue to be a challenge for SCPS. SCPS Middle School students have been performing poorly over the past decade are declining still, despite various instructional challenges. A serious shortage of math teachers over the last decade, combined with rotating teachers in positions, has made math instruction in grades 6 and 7 inconsistent. Continued attempts to implement scheduled math intervention at the middle school have been unsuccessful due to mid-year vacancies, health issues, and maternity leave. SCPS intends to fund, and staff, a full time math intervention position next year in addition to hopefully fully staffing the regular math teachers.”

Talbot – “A challenge TCPS has in tracking Freshmen on track to graduate is developing a comprehensive data management system. While there are systems in place that allow us to determine who is “on-track” (5 credits, core course success, 90% attendance), TCPS believes that being deemed “on-track” in 9th grade is contingent on all educational opportunities and progress from the moment a student enters our school system in PreK. While TCPS is data rich in measures that are predictive of future “on-track” designation and uses that data throughout a student’s education career, we do not currently have a system that supports longitudinal access to that historical information. Pieces are available in different platforms, but TCPS is seeking one system that will provide all information to be stored centrally and be easily accessible to effectively progress monitor and plan early interventions to support student success. TCPS has convened a workgroup that is researching available options. This team includes a broad range of stakeholders to ensure no measures are being missed and that the final product selected meets the multiple needs to effectively monitor student progress.”

Washington – “Students who are identified as potentially struggling with the transitions to high school are invited to a ninth-grade summer transition program prior to entering high school where literacy, other academic skills, and relationship building are incorporated into the activities. Schools track student’s academic data though our student information system and analytics program. All high school Algebra I classes are 90 minutes with a built in 30-minute supplemental instruction block. Select schools offer a 90-minute English 9 class with a built in 30-minute supplemental instruction block for students who are reading at least 2 grade levels below the grade nine Lexile target. After school tutoring is available. Summer school opportunities are available to retake courses failed during the ninth-grade year.”

Wicomico – “Many challenges exist when students transition from middle to high school. Often, students enter credit-bearing courses without having been successful learning prerequisite content while in middle school. Attendance is a specific concern as high schools utilize a semester-based schedule making missed class time even more detrimental. High school classes include students from multiple grades and backgrounds, making the transition from middle school more difficult for some students. Students are also presented with many opportunities for extracurricular activities which can pose an additional distraction. Early identification of students in middle school will also be crucial. Middle school administration and counselors will align student schedules with rigorous coursework to prepare students for high school while providing balanced academic support and interventions. Processes will be put in place to track student data for and interventions for grades 4-8 similar to the intervention plans in place for students in grades K-3.”

Worcester – “School counselors, curriculum resource teachers, and administrators regularly monitor freshmen to ensure that students have appropriate core courses and world languages by the end of freshman year. Progress monitoring of freshman in their core classes is completed weekly in PLCs and monthly student progress meetings. Currently schools use spreadsheets to track student progress. A challenge is updating the spreadsheets regularly. WCPS is working with Unified Insights to implement live data tracking, so schools can monitor student performance with current data; this countywide system will ensure accountability for monitoring freshmen. Schools utilize the Proactive Intervention Process (PIP) to monitor students who are in need of MTSS supports and interventions. PIP teams should meet at least every six weeks to ensure students are supported and making progress; in the future, schools will be more closely monitored to ensure that the PIP meetings are scheduled regularly. At the high school level, students in 9th grade projected to not be “on-track” and students that are not CCR in English or Mathematics by the end of grade 10 will be the focus for student success plans created in the Proactive Intervention (PIP) Process.”

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Maryland Matters series to break down tens of thousands of pages of education reform plans into digestible insights. Click through to read roundups of Blueprint efforts on college and career readiness, expanding early childhood education, bolstering mental health supports, and efforts to hire high-quality and diverse educators.