Maryland ranks among the lowest-performing states in terms of providing equal access to advanced courses to public school students, a trend mirrored in Montgomery County, according to a recent study.
The county also featured a slightly higher share of inexperienced teachers than the state average, and a much higher share of students in Gifted and Talented academic programs during regular school hours.
A June study by ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, showed that Maryland’s wealthier schools had signficantly better access to Advanced Placement, college-level courses, than schools with a higher share of students receiving free and reduced-price meals. Using statistics from the 2009-2010 school year, only Oklahoma and Kansas had a stronger correlation between wealth and AP access.
ProPublica’s study found a relatively high percentage of Montgomery County students in advanced courses overall, but still a signficant correlation between a school’s economic background and access to courses like AP.
For example, at Walt Whitman High, where 2 percent of students receive meal assistance, 57 percent of students took at least one AP class. At John F. Kennedy High School, where 41 percent of students receive assistance, 29 percent took at least one AP class, below the county high school average of 38 percent. Walt Whitman offered 29 AP courses, while John F. Kennedy offered 17.
However, the county had 38 percent of students take at least one AP course in high school, significantly greater than the 23 percent of all Maryland students who did so. On average, it offered 22 AP courses per high school, compared to the state’s average of 15.
Montgomery schools spokeswoman Lesli Maxwell said the study only represented a “snapshot” and that every year, the school system has successfully increased the number of students who received meal assistance in AP courses.
In 2000, she said, 257 such students took an AP exam, while in 2010, 2,845 such students did.
“It goes up every year, for participation and performance as well,” Maxwell said.
ProPublica used data from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in the study. Charter and alternative schools were not included.
One area where Montgomery County stood out dramatically was in the share of students in Gifted and Talented programs. In 2009-10, 54 percent of students were in such programs, compared to 28 percent of Howard County public school students, 22 percent of Baltimore County schools and 21 percent of Fairfax County schools in Virginia. Statewide, the average share of such students was 25 percent.
In 2009-10, 12 percent of teachers in Montgomery County were labeled “inexperienced” by ProPublica, meaning they were in their first or second years working for the school system. The state average was 11 percent.