Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) maintains a webpage dedicated to its academic successes. The full listing of the webpage is reproduced below.
- MCPS had the highest graduation rate of any large school district in the nation in 2010, according to an Education Week study.
- MCPS was selected as a 2010 finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, a prestigious award that recognizes substantial progress in closing the achievement gap. MCPS is the only school district in Maryland and the Washington, DC area to ever have been a finalist.
- Seven MCPS high schools ranked among the top 100 in the nation by Newsweek magazine in 2010. All 25 MCPS high schools ranked in the nation’s top 3 percent of the nation’s high schools.
- Exactly half of the graduates in the Class of 2010 earned a college-ready score of 3 or higher on at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam—a record high performance for MCPS that is nearly double the rate in Maryland and triple the rate nationally.
- The percentage of African American and Hispanic graduates in the MCPS Class of 2010 with at least one AP score of 3 or higher surpassed the national average of 16.9 percent for all graduates.
- In 2010, students took more than 2,400 International Baccalaureate exams and earned a college-ready score of 4 or higher on 85.9 percent of the tests.
- The MCPS Class of 2010 earned a 1653 combined average SAT score, setting a school system record and surpassing both national and state averages.
- Nearly 50 percent of graduates in the MCPS classes of 2001-2004 earned a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with 27.5 percent nationwide.
- More than 75 percent of MCPS kindergarten students in 2010 reached or exceeded reading text at Level 6, two levels above the strategic target set by MCPS in the Seven Keys to College Readiness, a step-by-step guide for parents and students to prepare for college.
- Students in Grade 3 through Grade 8 score Advanced in reading proficiency on Maryland School Assessment (MSA) exams in far greater numbers than public school students as a whole in Maryland
Take a close look at the last of these claims, one which is based on student reading performance on Maryland School Assessment (MSA) exams. Leaders of the school district have been quoted in the media as saying the MSAs are “unreliable measures” and of “questionable reliability or purpose.” Consequently, one has to take the claims of success on the MSA reading exams with a grain of salt.
The immediately preceding claim is that “more than 75% of MCPS kindergarten students in 2010 reached or exceeded reading text at Level 6, two levels above the strategic target set by MCPS.” Yes, MCPS set a reading level target and used a measure of its own creation, the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Assessment Program in Primary Reading (AP-PR or MCPSAP-PR), to justify this claim. According to MCPS “The Montgomery County Public Schools Assessment Program—Primary Reading (MCPSAP-PR) informs instructional practice and measures individual student progress. The assessment is administered to all kindergarten through Grade 2 students three times a year within a designated testing window.”
The report available at the link above makes the claim that “from 2006 to 2011, the percentage of kindergarten students who attained the first key to college readiness at Text level 6 climbed 20 percentage points to 76.3 percent.” Yes, MCPS students exceeded homegrown targets as measured by homegrown tests.
Is reading at the Reading Recovery Text Level 6 a worthwhile benchmark for kindergarten readers? According to MCPS “Reading Recovery is a first grade intervention that is implemented in selected elementary schools,” and an example text is the Clever Fox. Reading Recovery “is a short-term intervention for first graders having extreme difficulty with early reading and writing.” One could argue that most kindergartners from socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds will read well above this level. It is not at all unusual to find parents on local email lists asserting that their kindergartners read at a “fourth-grade level,” etc.
Clearly, MCPS accomplishments must be viewed in the appropriate context. The rest of MCPS’ claims will be reviewed in future columns.