MCPS Students Are Failing Classes at Higher Rates, Officials Say

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students are failing classes at higher rates than last year, officials said at a school board meeting Thursday.

Officials presented data about specific student groups from three grade levels: sixth, ninth, and 12th. Residents can access Thursday’s slideshow to see the full data presented.

MCPS used data from English and math classes. Black and Hispanic students receiving free and reduced meals (FARMS) and students receiving services have seen significant jumps in D’s and E’s, especially in math, said Curriculum and Instructional Programs Associate Superintendent Niki Hazel.

One data set compares ninth graders’ math performance during the first quarter to their first quarter grades last year. Last school year, 5.7% of Black students receiving FARMS and 6.8% of Hispanic students receiving FARMS earned an E as their first quarter math grade. Those numbers spiked to 33.7% and 43.9% this year. Last year, 6-8% of eighth graders who were in special education programs, were English language learners, or received FARMS earned an E in math during the first quarter. This past marking period, those numbers surged to 33.1-44.8% of ninth graders in those student groups failing math.

In some areas, student groups earned more A’s during the first quarter while also receiving more failing grades. Compared to sixth graders last year, this year’s sixth graders earned more A’s in English during the first marking period across all demographics MCPS highlighted. At the same time, sixth graders from these student groups earned more E’s during the first marking period compared to the first marking period last year.

MCPS adjusted its grading system in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fall, the school system returned to the traditional letter-grade system. Officials knew this would be difficult under the virtual learning model, said Scott Murphy, director of College and Career Readiness and Districtwide Programs during Thursday’s meeting. MCPS worked to come up with guidance on best practices, like how many assignments are reasonable and how to handle deadlines. Still, the coursework was too overwhelming for many students, Murphy said.

“We at the time put out what we thought was really good guidance for the first marking period. But what we’ve learned is that for many, many, many students it was too much,” he said.

“Too many assignments, too much work to do, managing it across seven, eight classes. We had some grade books in the first marking period that had 20, 30, even more assignments in one class. And the pretty consistent feedback we got was it was too much.”

Schools are developing plans for those students with D’s and E’s, said Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools Dr. Janet Wilson. She noted there is some community reluctance toward adding more virtual instruction time. Wilson said she understands that, which is why MCPS leaders are looking forward to providing in-person support, when in-person instruction begins.

On. Nov. 10, the school board tentatively approved a phased reopening plan: in January 2021, students in discrete special education programs at all levels will be among the first to return to school buildings, if the health metrics allow it. High school students in some career and technical education (CTE) programs would also be included in the January phase-in. If health conditions continue to improve, a larger group phase-in will begin Feb. 1. A final vote is scheduled for Dec. 15.

In response to pacing concerns, MCPS has adjusted its curriculum to only include major course standards, Hazel said. This way, teachers get more instruction time. Assessments have also been adjusted to match the adjusted curriculum; students will take fewer MAP tests and secondary progress checks, Hazel said. Hazel said because the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term implications, MCPS will develop a long-term plan for pacing and course sequence to cover the next year or two.

MCPS is also implementing the 50% rule, which makes it so the lowest grade a student can receive is an E, or 50%, instead of a zero, Murphy said. He said the school system is looking at ways to offer students more instruction time, like on Saturdays or after school.

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