Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) maintains a webpage dedicated to promoting a book titled Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools. MCPS asserts that the book “provides a comprehensive look at the district’s reform efforts over the last decade to increase achievement for all students while closing the achievement gap. The text is a guide designed to assist other school districts engaged in the critical work of education reform.
In addition to “Leading for Equity,” Harvard University faculty and researchers have produced several case studies over the last four years that provide detailed insights about the MCPS reform journey.”
The school district has made three of the case studies available for the intrepid reader. The disclaimer, on these “case studies” (see here, here, and here) clearly indicates that they are “… not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management.”
Clearly, this disclaimer didn’t prevent the authors of Leading for Equity from basing a book on documents that their own colleagues asserted were “… not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data,” etc.
Furthermore, the book seemingly evaluates the success of the “district’s reform efforts,” using Maryland School Assessment (MSA) data. The Maryland School Assessment test was designed to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
Is the Maryland School Assessment data set a useful measure of academic progress? According to the district’s official spokesman, Dana Tofig, MSA scores “…have proven to be pretty unreliable measures.” For good measure the then President of the Board of Education (BoE), Patricia O’Neill, and former Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, label the MSAs as “poorly constructed tests of questionable reliability or purpose.” In a presentation before the BoE, on September 27th, the Superintendent, apparently asserted that the MSA scores have a wiggle room of 20% to 25%.
A few days ago, when many of the district’s high schools failed to meet their NCLB goals of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), Mr. Tofig is quoted in news reports as stating that “AYP has never been an end-all, be-all at MCPS.” The district’s new superintendent wrote to the Washington Post saying, “NCLB also forced educators to use data —but it was the wrong data.”
Which is rather surprising, since the school improvement efforts in MCPS “have been carefully guided by a detailed strategic plan titled, Our Call to Action: Pursuit of Excellence.” The strategic plan makes no bones about the fact that maintaining AYP, based on NCLB mandated tests is a fundamental facet of its pursuit of excellence. For good measure, the districts “Seven Keys for College Readiness” also relies on the “wrong data,” those “unreliable measures” of “questionable reliability or purpose,”—the MSAs.
It seems the success of the district’s reform was measured using the wrong data, its strategic plan relied on the wrong data, and the much touted path to “College Readiness” was based on the wrong data.
Author’s note: the last paragraph was re-edited.