Dear Chairwoman Mrs. Lichter, Vice Chair Mrs. Harvey, Superintendent Dr. Williams, and Members of the Board,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of CASE.
I’d like to speak to you tonight about two issues.
The first issue is the STAR ratings. It is important that we as educators are accountable for student learning, but I am concerned that the STAR system of ranking schools creates a confusing and misleading picture of what is happening in schools. Rating systems like STAR assume everyone comes to the table with the same resources and opportunities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Variability is the norm. Students are different, and the challenges they face happen at the community, school, and family level.
It is important to remember that the STAR ratings are a snapshot in time. The rankings don’t explain where schools started and how schools and students have grown. And most importantly the STAR ratings don’t provide a corrective action plan for moving forward based on the individual and real challenges student, schools, and communities face. I’m not against accountability, but rating systems like STAR mislead the public into believing that one school is good, and one school is bad based on the ratings. As you visit schools, you will see excellence in schools with a one-star rating and you will see room for improvement in schools with a 5 star rating.
The second issue I’d like to bring to your attention is changes to COMAR when disciplining students with IEPs that have exhibited dangerous behavior like weapons possession and fighting. The law limits and prohibits the suspension and expulsion of students that exhibit dangerous behaviors if those behaviors are a manifestation of the student’s disabilities. The law limits the use of virtual learning for these students. What the law doesn’t do is provide direction and support as well as resources to schools and school districts in providing appropriate placements and supports for these students. Teachers and administrators feel unheard and under resourced when asking for support in providing an appropriate education for theses students. The current law makes students and staff feel unsafe.
I often hear board members say to staff, “How can we help?” This is how you can help. Lobby at the state and national levels for the resources and guidance needed to provide appropriate educational supports to students struggling with behavioral challenges. Ask for processes that are rigorous and funded, but streamlined to get students the supports they need quickly. It would be an important step in making schools safer. Just ask your child’s teacher. Just ask your children.
Thank you for your time.
—Billy Burke, Executive Director