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Press Release: Schools Set To Open For The 2015-2016 Academic Year

Public School Enrollment May Hit New Record This Fall

For Immediate Release                                                 Contact: Bill Reinhard, 410-767-0486

Baltimore, MD (August 18, 2015)

Maryland public school systems begin re-opening on Wednesday, August 19, as a record number of students across the State prepare to start the 2015-16 academic year.

By the time all schools open their doors on September 9, more than 865,000 K-12 students will fill classrooms and another 250,000 children will be involved in some form of pre-kindergarten, Head Start, or licensed childcare program.  

"Few moments are more exciting than the first day of school—for students, as well as teachers and parents.  We look forward to a safe and productive new school year," said Governor Larry Hogan.  "Strong schools and classrooms lead to a stronger Maryland."

Schools this fall begin the third full year of implementation of the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards and the second administration of the new PARCC state assessments—online tests for grades 3-8 and high school, aligned to the State standards. 

“Maryland’s classrooms will offer students many new and exciting learning opportunities this year, as we continue to embrace the high academic standards our children need to succeed at each grade level,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery.  “We’re enormously proud of our talented teachers and administrators, who foster and encourage students to learn what they need to know to get on track for college and careers.”

Noteworthy This School Year

  • Enrollment & Demographic Trends
    • Enrollment in Maryland public schools appears primed to break the record of 869,113 students, set in 2004.  After hitting that mark, public school enrollment went on a five-year decline before reaching 843,861 by 2009.  Since then it has rebounded, reaching 866,169 students last school year.

    • Maryland’s student population also has experienced major demographic changes over the past 20 years.  Maryland has educated a majority-minority student population for nearly a decade.  White students represent nearly 40 percent of the student population, followed by African-American students, who make up 35 percent of the student population.  Both the White and African-American student populations have been in decline as a percentage of the student body in recent years. 
    • Hispanic students represent 14 percent of the student body, while Asian students account for approximately six percent.  Percentages of Hispanic and Asian students have been steadily rising.  Also increasing is the percentage of students identifying themselves as two or more races, which is at four percent.

    • Also on the rise in the State’s schools is the percentage of students coming from circumstances of poverty.  Last year, for example, 50.4 percent of Maryland elementary students were eligible for free- or reduced-price meals, the federal proxy for poverty.  Ten years earlier that tally stood at 37.1 percent – a dramatic increase over the decade.

    • More information on Maryland school demographics can be found on the Maryland Report Card website.
  • Setting a High Bar for Achievement
    • Maryland’s College and Career Ready Standards have been in place in all public schools for three years or more, and already there are signs that the new core curriculum is having a positive effect.  Education Week found the new mathematics standards to be more challenging, and positive reviews for the English standards have also been published.
    • Continued Integration of College and Career-Ready Standards.  More than 4,000 educators this summer took part in voluntary College and Career Readiness Conferences and other professional development activities that provided challenging, hands-on instruction in STEM-related activities and more.

      • This year’s conferences also included professional development on the Next Generation Science Standards.  These state-developed standards are designed to incorporate major learning advances into the work taking place in science classrooms throughout the country.  The standards are built on reports from the National Research Council and have been embraced by major corporations, education organizations, and scientists.

      • New learning tools for Maryland teachers and parents can be found at MSDE’s growing LearnMD website.
    • Better Assessments Aligned to the Higher Standards.  The PARCC state assessments, aligned to the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards, replaced the math and English MSAs in 2014-15.  Results from the first year of administration are being tabulated this fall for a winter release.

      • The next-generation tests, covering English language arts/literacy and mathematics, were given to Maryland students in grades 3-8 and in English 10 and algebra at the high school level.  More than 80 percent of students took the assessments online, with few technical glitches.  The new assessments have received widespread support.
      • The Maryland General Assembly this year passed HB 452, the Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessment and Testing in Public Schools.  The Commission will look at both State and federally mandated assessments, as well as locally required assessments.  The commission is scheduled to deliver its final report next summer.
  • Positive Trends in Graduation as Grad Requirements Change.  Maryland’s graduation rate is at an all-time high, and this year there are new rules that apply for dropping out.
    • More Maryland students are graduating from high school than ever before.  Maryland’s cohort graduation rate reached 86.39 percent in 2014--more than 4 percentage points higher than the 81.97 rate registered in 2010.

    • At the same time, dropout rates have fallen to new lows. While gaps in graduation rates remain between student groups, the improvement in graduation has been across the board.  African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and White student subgroups have all experienced improvement in graduation.

    • The graduation rate for special education students jumped 3 percentage points in just one year.

    • As of July 1, Maryland law requires that students must be 17 years of age before being allowed to withdraw from school. The former law allowed for withdrawals at age 16.
  • Strengthening Educator Evaluations.  All school systems are using new evaluations, and State leaders have pledged to work collaboratively to keep improving those systems.
    • Maryland school systems two years ago implemented new Teacher-Principal Evaluation Systems, which included both student growth and professional practice measures.  Early results show that Maryland’s educators are making the grade.

    • In the first full report on teacher evaluations, issued last October, 97.2 percent were rated either “highly effective” or “effective” in the State’s three-tiered rating system.  Likewise, 97.5 percent of principals were rated either “effective” or “highly effective.”

    • The data based on the 2013-14 school year found that 40.8 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective,” the top tier of the three-part rating system.  Likewise, 48.3 percent of principals were rated “highly effective” under the evaluation system.

    • More on Maryland’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation System can be found here.
  • Developing New Principals as Leaders. Maryland is preparing the next generation of school leaders, with the second cohort of the Promising Principals Academy holding its first get together this summer in Annapolis. Research has repeatedly shown that an effective principal is the key to a successful school. Two participants from 23 of Maryland’s 24 local school systems are taking part in the Academy this school year, plus one participant each from Kent County and the statewide SEED school.
    • The first cadre of Promising Principals went through the program during the 2014-15 school year.  By mid-summer, more than a dozen participants in that cohort had been promoted.

    • Participants were nominated by their local superintendent based on their leadership potential, current position, and interest.  The summer conference—aligned to principal training and evaluation standards—was the first time this new group of promising principals gathered as a whole.

    • Participants were immersed in intensive professional development on subjects ranging from leadership team-building to school vision and mission.  Their preparation will continue throughout this school year—both in person and on-line.
  • Expanding Computer Science and Access to Technology. The Maryland State Board of Education recently added AP Computer Science and other rigorous computer science courses approved by MSDE as courses that would help satisfy the State requirement that all students take mathematics each year they are in high school.  This is part of a statewide push to expand computer science. That is just one of several initiatives that Maryland has put forward in the past year to place a spotlight on computer science and educational technology.  For example:
    • Maryland last fall convened experts in computer science for “Maryland CSI: The Computer Science Initiative,” a unique statewide event cosponsored by MSDE and Anne Arundel Public Schools to discuss the imperative of improved computer science instruction.
    • Also last fall, Maryland held its first Maryland Hour of Code Contest.  Anne Arundel’s Old Mill High School was named the winner.
  • Improving Early Learning Assessments.  Maryland will open up more quality Pre-K programs to economically disadvantaged students.  In addition, a new Pre-K assessment will help teachers and parents better understand the educational needs of Maryland’s youngest learners.
    • Last fall, the Maryland Model for School Readiness assessment gave way to the new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA).  The more rigorous assessment found that nearly half of incoming kindergartners were fully ready for learning, while another 36 percent were approaching readiness.  The goal of the KRA is to provide data for teachers to adjust instruction and improve learning.  Early childhood programs can use the information to address achievement gaps and respond to the learning needs of certain groups of students.  Data also can be used to inform professional development, curricular changes, and future investments in learning.
    • MSDE worked with local school systems to develop the KRA, and has since engaged educators—including kindergarten teachers—to help strengthen the assessment process.  As a result, next year’s version of the KRA will be 20 percent shorter, with some of the more time-intensive items removed.  An enhanced reporting feature will be in place for the 2015-16 school year, allowing teachers to get on-time reports of their students’ skill levels.
  • New Charter Schools.  Four new charter schools are scheduled to open this fall, bringing the total to 50.

    • This year’s new schools:

  • Govans Elementary - a former city elementary school converting to a charter.
  • Banneker Blake Academy - a middle school for boys, opening with sixth graders.
  • Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Charter School - serving grades 5-8, opening with fifth and sixth graders.
  • Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys - serving grades 4-8, opening with fourth, fifth, and sixth grades.
    • About 1,000 students will be enrolled in the new schools this fall.  Complete information on Maryland’s charter schools can be found here.
  • Improving Special Education Services. The Maryland General Assembly this past spring approved HB 535, the Blind or Visually Impaired Children-Individual Education Programs—Orientation and Mobility Instruction Act.  This legislation will ensure that all student who are blind or visually impaired in the State receive appropriate consideration for Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instruction. 
  • Also new this year: Maryland has enhanced its online Individualized Education Program (IEP) for preschool children with three new sections designed to gather important information specific to young children with disabilities, ages three to kindergarten.  The added sections emphasize the role of parents as active partners and shared decision-makers in their child’s educational experience and progress monitoring; take a deeper look at the range of early childhood settings in which children receive their special education and related services alongside their typical peers; and link the development of  IEP goals to early childhood learning standards, focusing on school readiness skills and knowledge established for all children in anticipation of entering kindergarten.
  • MSDE’s Division of Special Education Services hosts a large number of helpful publications for parents and educators on its website, here or here.

Keeping Students Healthy.  Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is requiring new immunizations for children entering kindergarten/first and seventh/eighth grades. Specifically:

    • All students entering kindergarten and first grade must have had two varicella vaccinations before the first day of school.
    • All students entering seventh and eighth grade must have had one Tdap vaccination and one meningococcal (MCV4) vaccination before the first day of school.

For more information, see the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s immunization page.

School Start Dates

St. Mary’s and Washington counties kick off the school year on August 19.  Opening dates for the remaining systems:

    • August 20 - Cecil County
    • August 24 – Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Caroline, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Howard, and Somerset counties, along with the statewide SEED School
    • August 25 – Calvert, Kent, Prince George’s, and Talbot Counties
    • August 27 – Harford County
    • August 31 – Baltimore City and Carroll, Charles, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s and Wicomico Counties
    • September 8 – Worcester County

Please note that some individual schools and grades have different start dates.  Check with your local school system for more information. 

MSDE’s round-up of school openings and closings can be found here.

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