Author’s note: This article was edited for clarity.
Many parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, feel that their progeny need acceleration in math, English or both. These children, the parents contend, are bored in the assigned grade level classes, and are often content when placed in higher grade level classroom for math and/or English. Montgomery County Public Schools, (MCPS) has acknowledged that there are children, approximately an average of 40% of second-graders, performing at a grade level above in math and English. Parents, understandably, assume their child is gifted and talented (GT), and the school system has fortified this conclusion by labeling these children GT. These children, performing just above the second grade level in math and/or English, are chosen for the GT screening pool. However, these children are not necessarily chosen for further GT identification. The manner in which these children are chosen for the GT screening pool is described here.
The Maryland School Assessment (MSA) is an annual assessment program that tests grades 3 through 8 in English reading and mathematics. It is the State assessment program established pursuant to the requirements of the NCLB law.
Perhaps you’ve experienced one of Oprah’s “Aha! Moments.” Students, it seems, find the very two subjects in which proficiency is measured too easy! Aha! Yes, the math and English reading curriculum isn’t challenging enough. Is it at all possible that the rigor and depth of the instruction in two subjects in which proficiency is measured, math and reading, have been diminished? After all, such an exercise would make it possible to claim a closing of the academic achievement gap and show a greater proficiency rate.
This column has asserted the dubious value of the MSAs, and shown that it is possible that Maryland standards are lower than those established by Massachusetts. In other words, students are bored in their math and English classes because the standards are too low. There is enough evidence to justify a reasonable belief that Maryland’s curricular standards need improvement.
This column has been resolute in arguing that curricular standards, including math and English standards must be raised—at least to the performance level of those second graders chosen for the GT screening pool. Furthermore, this column has asserted, that we need to raise standards to international levels (see here and here).
MCPS, to its credit, seems to have accepted the validity of these arguments. In a video posted on its website, the district asserts that it is increasing the rigor and depth of its curriculum, at least in math, to international standards. Increasing the rigor and depth of a public school curriculum is, arguably, an unpopular proposition. In Montgomery County, where it has the potential of eliminating a large cadre of students finding the grade-level curriculum too easy and are labeled GT, the exercise will likely be met with preemptive hostility.
However, the district must stand firm in its march to increase the rigor and depth of its curriculum. In doing so the district must also remember that it must implement concrete interventions to increase the performance level of an average of 60% of second graders who don’t perform above grade under the present curriculum. These interventions may include extended day or extended school year programs. The underperformers may also need targeted afterschool programs and targeted parental outreach. In other words, MCPS must reach for raising the level of its less-prepared student population. It is, arguably difficult, incapable of a quick-fix, but can be done.
For starters, the community must stop flogging the proverbial horse, in this case the effort to raise math standards, before it is determined if it can pull the cart. Parents must take responsibility for their children and ensure that they are sent to school prepared to learn and respect their teachers. Teachers, in turn, must insist on being that respectable figure that imparts tangible knowledge in the classroom.