State assessment results released this week were a mixed bag for Montgomery County: Local students outperformed their peers, but only a minority earned passing grades on some math and English tests.
This was the third year that Montgomery County Public Schools students took the exams, introduced as part of a push to raise learning standards across the state. Educators predicted that students would struggle as they adjusted to a more rigorous testing framework, and the newly released data show many are continuing to fall short of passing scores on the assessments.
County school Superintendent Jack Smith said children are born into a wide variety of circumstances, and the knowledge they carry when first walking into school is far less important than their progress.
He noted that MCPS has shown gains in the scores over time and pointed out that students performed best on the high school-level English tests.
“That doesn’t mean that English test is easier than the third-grade test,” he said. “What it means is that school has had a positive effect over time.”
About 50 percent of MCPS elementary school students met or exceeded standards in math and English tests, while 41 percent of their peers statewide passed the language arts assessment and 39 percent passed math.
MCPS middle schoolers who took the English exams achieved a 50 percent passing rate, but only a third reached the bar on the math tests. Still, they beat the statewide passing rates of 40 percent for English and 26 percent for math.
On the Algebra 1 test, about 43 percent of MCPS students met or exceeded standards and 69 percent scored well enough to satisfy their graduation requirement, said Donna Blaney, who supervises the school system’s testing and reporting unit. Across the state, about 61 percent of Algebra 1 test-takers cleared the threshold for graduation, she said.
Scores for the statewide assessment are divided into five tiers, and students are considered proficient if they fall into one of the top two categories. However, testing into the third category is good enough to meet the graduation requirement.
About 64 percent of MCPS students who took the 10th-grade English test were deemed proficient and 79 percent fulfilled the graduation requirement, she said. Overall in Maryland, 49 percent were considered proficient and 67 percent did well enough to graduate.
Students who don’t reach the graduation standards can retake the test, and if they fail a second time, they can complete an extra project to earn their diploma, Blaney said.
She said the state is debating what standard to require as a condition of graduation and could raise the bar in coming years.
MCPS officials celebrated the rising number of students completing the Algebra 1 test and noted a particular increase in participation of black and Hispanic students and students who receive free and reduced-priced meals.
County school board President Michael Durso noted that Montgomery County’s high number of English-language learners plays into the local testing outcomes.
“We have students in many cases who are still trying to master the language, and yet they’re tested like everybody else,” he said.
Students in Montgomery County have gained ground overall since the tests debuted three years ago, MCPS officials noted. The assessments were designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states and Washington, D.C.
Smith has argued against evaluating student performance by looking at a single number and has worked on an approach that gathers data from a variety of sources. The PARCC is only one element of gauging learning, he said.
“They’re neither the beginning nor the end of the story, but they are important,” Smith said.