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County schools closing the achievement gap

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Published on: Thursday, March 14, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE - Montgomery County Public Schools has made progress in narrowing the achievement gap between white and Asian students and black and Latino students, according to a report compiled by the Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight, but there are still some areas in need of improvement.

“Unfortunately for many children, this gap is persisting and in some places even widening,” County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said.

Superintendent Joshua Starr made a request for a $3.5 million increase in the fiscal year 2014 operating budget to help narrow the achievement gap in the middle grades. Dana Tofig, director of public information for MCPS, said the $3.5 million will provide 30 additional focus teachers to help children with core areas of reading and math, as well as provide additional training for math teachers.

Among the many findings in the report, it projects it will take 36 years to eliminate the suspension gap at each school level and 25 years to eliminate the graduation gap.

According to the report, MCPS’ achievement gap is narrowest on grade-level measures and widest on measures of above grade level and at-risk performance. The report compared the number of students earning advanced reading and mathematics scores on the Maryland State Assessment from 2012.

Seventy four percent of white and Asian eighth-grade students achieved advanced scores in reading, compared to 34 percent and 38 percent of black and Latino students, respectively. In mathematics, 63 percent of white students and 69 percent of Asian students achieved advanced scores, compared to 18 percent of black students and 19 percent of Latino students.

The gap between the scores of white students and the scores of black and Latino students widened by nine percent in reading, while the gap in mathematics widened by 14 percent and 16 with black students and Latino students, respectively.

The report also found the MCPS achievement gap widened in three other areas: completion of an introductory algebra course by eighth grade with a grade of “C” or better, performance on Advanced Placement exams and in International Baccalaureate programs among graduates, and performance on SAT and ACT exams by graduates.

Tofig said the findings are not surprising to MCPS and are consistent with analyses and information the school system already had.

“The achievement gap is not something that is unique to MCPS by any means,” Tofig said. “We are certainly in many cases more honest and upfront about it than a lot of districts. We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s certainly a lot more work to be done.”

In the report, the council received three recommendations, which Ervin said will need to be part of a “tough conversation” between the council and MCPS officials.

One of the recommendations is to find out how the school system establishes its funding priorities for closing the achievement gap and how the fiscal year 2014 budget request reflects these priorities. It also recommends asking MCPS representatives to describe the school system’s explicit expectations for achieving progress in closing the achievement gap based on current trends and planned investments.

“I think that Dr. Starr and his leadership team are looking forward to talking about this with the education committee and the County Council,” Tofig said.

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