Results of SATs from the Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) class of 2019 showed a drop in scores for the first time since the SAT was redesigned in 2016. (Photo Courtesy)

ROCKVILLE – The percentage of middle school students receiving a passing score (725, or a 3) on the Algebra 1 state standardized test decreased since 2018, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) wrote in a news release. 

In 2019, 71.4 % of middle school students who took Algebra I earned the minimum score required for graduation on the standardized tests provided by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Of the students who took Algebra I in high school, 36 % met the graduation requirement. 

However, in 2018, 79.8 % of middle school students and 40.5 % of high school students earned the minimum passing score on Algebra I, indicating drops of 8.4 % and 4.5 % from one year to the next, respectively. MCPS officials said more students took the Algebra 1 PARCC exam in middle school in 2018 than ever before to explain the drop. 

In other results: 76.7 % of students earned the minimum score in English/Language Arts 10 in 2019, a 0.1-percent increase compared to 76.6 % in 2018. The number of MCPS students’ math scores above the minimum in grades three through five each surpassed those of the state, at 51 %. More than 52 % of third through fifth graders earned more than the minimum, at levels four and five, there was an increase of less than one percent over 2018. MCPS did not provide information on how many students met the minimum requirement. 

In her remarks, State Superintendent Karen Salmon focused on the state-level scores that improved from last year. 

“The results show progress in English/language arts, especially at the elementary and middle school levels. The results also illustrate that we need to continue supporting learning for all Maryland students, especially in certain grade levels and subjects,” Salmon said Aug. 28.

Salmon said she believes schools and teachers will find a use for data from the 2019 standardized tests. 

“This information will be used by educators in combination with classwork, independently administered assessments, and other academic data to fuel and strengthen student outcomes,” said Salmon. “Analyzing assessment results and continuously monitoring students’ performance is an important step towards improvement.”

Watkins Mill High School English teacher Jennifer Martin, however, said she does not see value in reviewing student data related to the 2019 PARCC, given that it is the final year in which the state is administering that test. 

Martin said she had no comment about the lack of change in the percentage of students earning the minimum required score on the English/Language Arts 10 test. 

“Honestly, I’m looking to see what’s coming next,” Martin said. “I’m hoping that whatever assessment comes down the pipe next, it’s going to take less time, be less stressful for my kids and, honestly, I’m going to keep teaching. That’s what – I try to focus on the teaching (and), not on the testing.”

Students who do not meet the minimum requirement on the PARCC for English/Language Arts or for Algebra I must complete a long-term assignment called a bridge project to meet the graduation requirements. 

At some county high schools, several students meet with a teacher in a class period during the school year to work on their bridge projects. Martin is the bridge project teacher at Watkins Mill High School. She said for a majority of her students, English is not their first language. 

The state of Maryland did not always require passing grades on select tests in PARCC tests for high school graduation. In 2015 and 2016, students took the test but not required to pass it. Starting in 2017, however, graduation warranted a score of a 3 or better out of 5 in Algebra I and English/Language Arts 10 exam. This year is the third year that passing grades were mandatory for public school students in the state. 

Maryland public schools are about to switch to a test provider closer to home. Maryland educators are creating new state standardized tests, under the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP), to administer to students in place of the PARCC. 

“The MCAP assessments will focus on the same academic content standards in English/Language Arts and Math as previous years, but with new items developed by Maryland educators,” a Maryland Education Department spokesperson wrote in a news release. “These assessments are designed to provide students, parents, and teachers with an understanding of student progress toward graduation and workforce readiness.”

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