Results released Thursday show most students in Montgomery County failed to earn college-ready scores on a new set of statewide tests administered for the first time last spring.
Only 38.6 percent of students who took the Algebra 1 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test got a score of 4 or 5, the standard demonstrating a student is on track to be college and career ready.
On the Algebra 2 test, 30.7 percent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students scored a 4 or a 5. Forty-four percent of MCPS students scored a 4 or a 5 on the English 10 PARCC test.
“I think there’s a learning the test factor in any new assessment,” said Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill. “Early on the scores [of previous statewide assessments] weren’t good. Certainly, PARCC is different. It requires a different set of skills.”
The results were expected and school officials were prepared to answer for what many view as disappointing results.
Last month, MCPS Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers sent a letter to all high school parents and guardians telling them “it is important to remember that the PARCC assessments are significantly different than previous state tests” because “these new tests are much more rigorous and ask students to demonstrate what they know in a variety of ways—not just through multiple choice questions or short written answers.
“Anytime a new test is introduced, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations will drop,” Bowers continued. “However, it is important that parents understand that the results of the PARCC assessments cannot be compared with the [Maryland School Assessments], the [Maryland High School Assessments], or any other test.”
PARCC, a consortium of seven states and Washington, D.C., that are administering the tests, released hundreds of sample questions this week showing how the Common Core-aligned assessments differ from previous standardized tests.
MCPS officials emphasized that spring 2015 was the first time students have taken the PARCC tests, providing a “new starting point” and baseline for future PARCC results. Their comments mirrored those of state education officials after the statewide results were released last week.
Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, students will have to get a certain score on the tests in order to graduate high school. The State Board of Education is expected to set what that score is in the spring.
As was the case with previous state assessments, students will have multiple chances throughout middle and high school to get a passing score.
O’Neill said she heard examples of students not taking the tests seriously because they knew they didn’t need a 4 or 5 to graduate.
She heard some students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School wanted to “stage a protest” and not show up to take the test.
“I think that was a significant factor. I’m not dismissing the persistent achievement gaps, but how seriously did students and staff take this PARCC test, or even parents?” O’Neill said. “We’ll have to look school-by-school to see how students in each high school actually performed.”
More MCPS high school students did earn a 4 or a 5 on the tests than the statewide averages.
But the state and MCPS results demonstrated significant gaps between the numbers of Asian, white, black and Hispanic students who achieved college-ready scores.
Almost 67 percent of Asian MCPS students earned a 4 or a 5 on the Algebra 1 PARCC exam, while 57.3 percent of white students did, 17.4 percent of black students did and 17.1 percent of Hispanic students did.
The gaps in performance between students of different races was similar on the Algebra 2 and English 10 exams.
Bowers said he was “especially concerned” about those results.
Fewer than 5 percent of black MCPS students got scores of 5 (meaning they exceeded the college or career ready standard) on the Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 tests.
“By all measures it reinforces that we have a lot of work to do,” O’Neill said.
Results for each student who took a PARCC test in the spring will be mailed to parents and guardians in December, at which point O’Neill said the BOE and MCPS expect to hear more questions about what the tests mean.
“Parents, when they receive their individual student reports in December, I imagine we’re going to have a fair amount of questions because there’s going to be a lot of head scratching,” O’Neill said.