According to Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Joshua Starr, the scores were recalculated after 82 percent of high school students and 23 percent of middle school students failed the Algebra 1B final exam. The test scores were recalculated by adding 15 additional points to each test in order to reflect a loss of instructional days due to preparation for the state administered Maryland High School Assessment (HSA). MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said the grades were recalculated to mimic previous test scores. With the recalculations, 275 students failed Algebra 1 versus 288 failures prior to the adjustment.
BOE vice president Patricia O’Neill says the failing test scores are not indicative of MCPS’s total achievement.
“We have been working on the issue of the kids not being able to pass our own creative end of semester exam. Kids are high achieving on the SAT, which includes algebra. Kids are doing very well on assessments outside of MCPS. We have large numbers of kids who are taking AP calculus, we are working on the problem of student achievement each and every day and this was a unique, troubling circumstances this spring,” said O’Neill.
“As for the question regarding the recalculated grade—we recalculated the grades so that the performance is similar to what we had seen in the past on the Algebra 1B exam and how these same students had performed on the first semester exam. Again, this wasn’t done simply to make the results look better,” said Tofig. “Exam performance in the past has not been good and we have not recalculated the exam grades. We did it this year because we believed there were extenuating circumstances that impacted Algebra 1B exam performance that did not impact other exams — mainly the need to spend extra time prepping students for a misaligned state test.”
In 2013, 68 percent of Montgomery County high school students and 10 percent of middle school students failed the exam. With the recalculations, 12 percent of middle school students failed the exam and 68 percent of high school students failed the exam.
According to the most recent rankings from U.S. News and World Report Montgomery County is the top school district in Maryland boasting nine of ten top ranked schools in the state. River Hill High School in Howard County is the only non-MCPS school to be ranked thusly. In other rankings, eight out of the top 10 schools in the D.C. metropolitan area were Montgomery County schools, eight of the nation’s top 200 schools were MCPS, and all 25 MCPS high schools ranked among the best schools in the nation. For the last six years statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau ranked Maryland as the top state for education.
“The problem is when you say world class system, you compare yourself to others and that’s where you have a majority of the school system that’s completely failing their kids. I never want to compare myself to a jurisdiction that is doing less than we are,” said Council president and chair of the education committee Craig Rice (D-2). “Just because we’re doing better than somebody who is doing a really bad job, doesn’t mean we’re doing a good job. Our school system wants to do the right thing by our kids and make sure all of our kids are achieving. I just think it’s very hard to figure out what that is and we want to help them to do that. We have to continue thinking outside the box. It is no longer ‘we are Montgomery County
In March, BOE president Phil Kauffman wrote a letter to the Maryland State Department of Education and the state superintendent, Dr. Lillian Lowery asking for temporary suspension of the HSA until the new Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers assessments are implemented during the 2016-2017 school year.
Tofig says the phasing out of the HSA will have a positive impact on next year’s scores. In addition, MCPS assembled the Semester Exam Work Group in 2013 to study the reasons why students fail and to make recommendations regarding the improvement of student final scores.
Maryland State Department of Education spokesman, Bill Reinhard, said the Algebra 1B final is a local test and the MSDE has no comment about the score recalculation, stating it is a county issue.
Doug Prouty, Montgomery County representative for the Maryland State Education Association, said he has not spoken to anyone from MCPS and did not have a comment on the grade recalculation. Prouty said there are members from the MSEA on the county committee.
Based on the recommendations, Dr. Starr is creating a five point plan to address the failing math scores. The five points are creating a strong foundation for math in elementary schools with the increase of math content coaches, changing math articulation policies, creating new methods to help low performance math students improve in math, professional development, and updating exam review resources for students and teachers.
“I believe that MCPS does a good job of math instruction but there is certainly room for improvement,” said Dr. Starr. “I look forward to discussing my plan with the Board of Education as we seek to ensure our students are developing the mathematics skills and knowledge they need to succeed.”
The county council’s education committee, along with members of the BOE, and Dr. Starr will meet July 14 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the achievement gap, the performance of MCPS schools during the 2013-2014 school year, and initiatives for the 2014-2015 school year.