ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County’s Office of Legislative Oversight released its yearly education report in December, outlining the performance and opportunity gaps by race and ethnicity across the county as well as recommendations on how to combat them.
The summary showed five key findings: Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) are diverse and segregated, gaps by race, ethnicity and service group status still persist, allocation of free & reduced-price meals (FARMS) funding is done incorrectly, and the school system budgets less for compensatory education and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs than it budgets for special education.
MCPS is one of the state’s most diverse school districts, with a little more than half of the students identifying as Latino or Black. Still, a majority of these students find themselves enrolled in the county’s high-poverty schools the report shows.
A majority of MCPS’ English-language learners are also enrolled in MCPS’ high-poverty schools, making the county’s high-poverty schools more impacted by the performance gap.
The state’s largest school district has made minimal progress since the last study in 2015. Yearly analysis of trend data shows that performance gaps across the groups are widening over time.
According to the report, White and Asian students have a higher chance of reaching each of the county’s 12 performance benchmarks. The report showed 78% of Asian students and 77% of White students met the Math SAT benchmark while only 34% of Black and 28% of Latino students did.
Ninety percent of White and 87% of Asian students met the English SAT benchmark compared to 60% of black students and 52% of Latino students.
In terms of school readiness, 70% of White students and 67% of Asian students met the benchmark, while only 46% of Black and 35% of Latino students did.
Latino students represent the largest student group in the largest school district in the state; they are 11 times more likely to drop out than Asian students and six times more likely to drop out than White students.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith addressed the data in a letter to the Office of Legislative Oversight.
“The recommendations contained in the report represent work well underway in MCPS,” Smith said, citing the All in the Equity and Achievement Framework initiative the school system began in the fall of 2019.
“The initiative provides a sophisticated way of matching student experience and performance with characteristics of poverty and race, moving away from traditional aggregate reporting of results that tell us about who the schools serve rather than how well they serve their student population,” Smith said. “This is new and drives the system’s equity work to increased levels not previously attainable with single measure, aggregate level reporting.”
Despite this, the oversight office’s report called the county’s effort “largely ineffective.” A review of recent data also shows that all students, as well as students ineligible for FARMS, ESOL programs, and special education, outperformed students who were low-income, English learners, and had disabilities
Although students with disabilities account for about 12% of student enrollment, special education accounts for 18% of MCPS’ operating budget, the report found.
In spite of this, while low-income students account for a third of enrollment, English learners account for 18% of enrollment. ESOL programs only account for eight percent of MCPS’ operating budget, according to the report.
Lastly, MCPS established compensatory programs as a supplement for disadvanced students. According to the report, MCPS received $171 million in federal and state compensatory education funding but only budgeted $124 million towards compensatory education programs that targeted low-income students or high-poverty schools.
The report does contain a few bright spots. Black student dropout rates have decreased and Black student graduation rates have increased every year since 2014. Gaps between Black, White and Asian students have narrowed in Advanced Placement (AP) and Algebra 1 standardized tests.
This report comes at a time when MCPS recently announced increased participation in SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes at the same time the report was released. MCPS representatives say that people are misinterpreting the data.
“The OLO report provides an inadequate representation of the county, and it doesn’t line up with state law,” Smith said. “The first step in eliminating disparities and reducing inequities is to get kids into the experiences that they need, and our data shows tremendous increases in access across many areas.”
Smith added the county’s All: Equity and Achievement Framework will provide the purpose, path, and plan to ensure success for all students.
“We believe that you can’t just look at one data point, and the state test is one data point,” said Smith.
“The OLO report is based primarily on the state test. It started in 2014 and will be gone in 2020. If you look at just one measure, you don’t really get where the progress, disparities, or successes are. You have to look at it with respect for the complexity that it has and deserves.”