Baltimore City Public Schools student scores on recently released 2016 PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) exams failed to reveal the boost students, parents, teachers and school administrators hoped to see. Students across Maryland outperformed Baltimore City Public School students at all grade levels.

But there is good news. A deeper analysis of PARCC test results reveals glimmers of hope and provide enough detail to carve out a strategy for growth and improvement, according to new Baltimore City Schools CEO, Sonja Santelises.


Federal Hill Preparatory Elementary is one of several schools to show improvements in Maryland’s standardized tests. (Courtesy photo)

Results released by the Maryland State Department of Education this week for the second annual PARCC exam, administered in spring 2016, show Baltimore City Public School students in grades 3 through 8 are still woefully “underperforming and unprepared for college and career. That is the responsibility of Baltimore Public Schools,” Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, told the {AFRO}.

Based on a comparison with 2015 PARCC scores, some levels of positive momentum can be seen in mathematics scores. City Schools students improved at all levels in mathematics with the exception of 6th grade and Algebra II. Baltimore City Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Sean Conley pointed out that progress in Algebra I was particularly promising.

“I was particularly pleased to see the results in Algebra I, where our students’ growth matched that of students across the state,” Conley he said.

The overall results in English Language Arts/literacy were more mixed, but the latest PARCC results still demonstrated pockets of modest improvement for Baltimore City Schools students. Student test results in grades 4, 7 and 8 improved from 2015 to 2016. However, students suffered declines in English language arts/literacy in grades 3, 5,6 with steep declines in grade 10.

“These results demonstrate the need for systemic changes in how literacy and language arts are taught,” said Santelises

A deeper look into second year of PARCC testing revealed that several schools held their own, yielding consistent and in some cases improved school-wide PARCC test results. Principal Sara Long has created an environment at Federal Hill Preparatory Elementary School that serves as an example of the positive momentum Santelises is looking for.

“We attribute the scores to teachers providing rigorous instruction on a daily basis and holding students accountable for critical thinking and problem solving. We are teaching students to persevere through difficult tasks,” Long told the {AFRO}.

School culture and environment

Santelises said that one of the places where she will start her “deep dive” is to look at overall school culture and environment.  “We have to make sure that the school environment allows students to succeed,” she said.  Long affirmed that diligence in creating a positive school milieu is a key to success at Federal Hill.

“Our entire school community (students, staff, parents, community partners, and administrators) is dedicated to the success of Federal Hill Prep.” Long said.

Instructional Alignment

Santelises said that one of the other areas City Schools administrators will be reviewing is instructional alignment. The American Educational Research Association describes instructional alignment as matching how the curriculum is written, how it is taught and how it is tested. In other words, teachers need to be prepared to support students in translating classroom success into testing success.

Lack of computerized instruction for Baltimore City School students may have been the culprit responsible for putting them behind the curve, particularly in English language arts PARCC scores, said Conley.

“Lack of strong infrastructure to support technology use at some of our schools creates barriers for students., “Conley said.  “We are working on ways to incorporate technology more effectively in classrooms.”

Alignment between building staff and Administrative Staff

“The other thing I want to look for is to ensure our Administrative staff at North Avenue and our building staff and teachers are on the same page. We have to be communicating the same thing,” said Santelises.

Santelises said the key to success is having an administrative team that can effectively communicate with school staff and teachers, a skill she taught to central educational administrators and school-based staff across the nation in her prior role as VP of PK-12 Policy and Practice at the Education Trust.

“It’s one thing for a District administrator to come out to one of our school buildings; it’s quite another to stand side-by-side with school-based staff and support them in gaining mastery over the skills that must be transmitted to students,” Santelises said. “Schools are asking for direction and specific supports, and we need to hear them loud and clear.”

Students in grades 3 through 8 sat for PARCC exams in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. High School students were tested in English 10, English 11, Algebra and Algebra II. PARCC exams are scored on a five-point scale. The top two scores of 4 and 5 represent passing grades, meaning a student has met or exceeded expectations in mastery of subject matter.

2016 PARCC tests were administered in Spring 2016, before Santelises was appointed CEO of Baltimore City Schools.  She has indicated that while she cannot guarantee change overnight, improvement on PARCC scores is clearly within the realm of issues that she and her staff are responsible for addressing.