State loses federal grant for key student tracking study

By Nick DiMarco

The state’s higher education system will have to rely on short-term options to continue a years-long educational progress study, thanks to a recent grant rejection.

The national Department of Education last month rejected an expanded proposal from the University System of Maryland to measure student progress from kindergarten beyond college, in order to evaluate Maryland’s school systems. Legislators nationwide have made tweaks to their educational systems to seem more attractive to judges who award shares of the $3.4 billion Race to the Top stimulus funding

Lawmakers passed legislation during the 2010 General Assembly to enhance the state’s “longitudinal data” program, but without the immediate $13.1 million requested in grants, officials are looking to other options. The state will likely pursue “less expensive, less efficient” ways to implement the plans for the research system, according to authorities who worked on the proposal. They are holding out hope that help will come from the Race to the Top program, but it’s not clear how much money will come to Maryland.

“It’s hard to say right off the top of our heads,” said Ben Passmore, director of policy research and analysis for the University System of Maryland. “This is stuff that we have to do. We have to come up with solutions to this stuff anyway.”

The rejected grant would’ve established a link between student progress and specific educators. The research outlined in the rejected grant proposal would’ve been used to identify which teachers were responsible for student success, in hopes of optimizing educational programs.

The second measure outlined would have allowed the state to construct a center where all information from the research program could be cataloged.

Assistant State Superintendent Leslie Wilson said the state didn’t include enough detail about how it would use the grant. She said the state only worked briefly with higher education officials before submitting the proposal.

“We have a short-term solution to meeting the federal requirements,” Wilson said. “Obviously we want to do more than that, which is what the grant was about.”

Wilson was told by U.S. Department of Education reviewers to include its plans in the state’s application for up to $250 million in stimulus funding.

Maryland officials often tout the successes of its educational systems, but losing out on the data research funding could create a significant divide between states, according to Passmore.

“I’m not sure how they’re going to do this in the long-run. It’s going to be a challenge to catch up to those states,” he said.

Maryland finished 25th in a pool of 51 applicants for the research funding. The first 20 were given grants.  Passmore said that states with more established programs were given priority over states with plans to develop.

“The states that were furthest along ended up with more money to take them farther along … What we’re going to end up with, in my opinion, is a set of states who have truly state-of-the-art where-we-all-want-to-be-systems and we’re also going to have a set of states who are technological generation behind those states.”

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