After several years in the making, the Maryland State Department of Education has not only released its star ranking systems but has also awarded the stars. Schools get stars for test scores, attendance, climate survey and year over year improvement on tests scores.
Now that the report is out there really aren’t all that many surprises. Baltimore City did not do too well. Only a few five-star schools. Howard County did very well. So did Carroll County. You could lay a socio-economic template down over the map of the state and the correlation between socio-economic level and number of stars is obvious. We are regularly taught that correlation does not equal causation but in this case many of the factors that lead to low socio-economic status are also the same issues that will impact the star categories.
Some people have complained about the number of five-star schools, why so many? If you look closely at the spread you will notice something interesting. There are the same number of one-star schools as there are 5-star schools. Ditto the numbers of two and four-star schools. That is because MSDE took the data and spread it out over a configuration known as the Bell Curve. Maybe you have seen it. It is shaped like a bell jar. The Bell Curve scales the various scores so that the schools with the highest number of stars get 100% on the curve. Schools with the lowest scores are placed at the other end of the curve. With this method the 2.5% of schools with the highest scores would get five stars and the 2.5% of the schools with the lowest scores would get 1 star. The next 13.5% on either end of the Bell Curve would get 2 and 4 stars respectively; while the middle 68% in the bubble or high point of the bell would get 3 stars. So when the superintendent of Baltimore County said that she believed a 3 star rating was average she was correct.
But here is the point. When you set scores on any distribution along a Bell Curve, 2.5% will ALWAYS get the highest ranking regardless of what the actual scores are. This is the reason some people have complained about too many 5-star schools and too many 1-star schools.
So what exactly does all this star rating stuff do for us? Well it will raise property values in the 5-star school areas, and lower them in the 1-star areas. But those were probably already pretty low. It does recognize year over year improvement in test scores for some schools. The schools with high absentee rates probably already knew that. The stars system does inform the community about its neighborhood schools. It does put pressure on school administrators to work to get more stars. It also cost a great deal of money to develop and to implement, and provides very little new information. How much better would it have been to not be so star-struck and to use that money to fix the problems we already knew existed.