Montgomery County school officials say their plans to restructure two upcounty middle schools will not focus solely on improving student performance on the standardized test scores that prompted the changes.
Rather, the plans include adding more rigorous courses to the schools.
The schools, Forest Oak in Gaithersburg and Neelsville in Montgomery Village, are required to develop two-year improvement plans under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 after both failed to hit state testing standards four years in a row. They are the first Montgomery County middle schools to have made such a change in the decade since the act went into effect.
Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr unveiled the plans March 26, saying they add afterschool and summer programs to the schools as well as more rigorous classes, and expand professional development in hopes of improving student performance at the school. He said the changes are not aimed at standardized test scores and that Adequate Yearly Progress — requirements for schools to improve test scores each year — are not measurements for success.
“You want to do things in a way that are right for the school and right for the system ... not just what the state has said,” Starr said.
Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said MCPS bases its assesments of schools on factors not included on standardized tests, such as volunteerism by parents, student engagement — measured in surveys — and advanced writing skills and proficiency in the sciences.
“What we do not do is judge students by a single measurement, like these scores,” he said.
Before the beginning of this school year, almost the entire staff at both schools was required to re-apply for their positions there, resulting in the replacement of 47 positions at Neelsville and 29 at Forest Oak, including both principals and three of four assistant principals.
Forest Oak will implement an Advancement Via Individual Determination Program, a college preparatory class, and Neelsville will introduce a Middle Years International Baccalaureate Programme, specialized classes similar to Advanced Placement programs. Both are slated to start offering an Information and Technology elective, titled Lights, Camera, Literacy! as well.
An additional $386,000 has been slated for Neelsville for the upcoming school year to afford the added professional development and introduce an eight-period day for students. Forest Oak is slated to get $294,000 for the added clases next year.
Darryl L. Williams, community superintendent for the group of schools that includes Neelsville and Forest Oak, said the idea was to dedicate staff to turning the school around in three years.
Starr will submit these plans to the Maryland Board of Education this month for approval before the end of this school year.
Starr said he hopes the kinds of changes implemented at Neelsville and Forest Oak will become models for school improvement systemwide. Two middle schools in the county have missed testing benchmarks for three years in a row, Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Burtonsville and Gaithersburg Middle School in Gaithersburg.