State tests show last year’s effort to improve overall math scores at two underperforming middle schools in Montgomery County failed. And, at one of the schools, reading scores also suffered.
Even so, the principal of one the schools said she planned to stay the course in its improvement effort.
“Our goal is not just to get these kids to pass a test. We want kids who are well-prepared academically,” said Vicky Lake-Parcan of Neelsville Middle School in Germantown.
At Neelsville, the overall percentage of students passing the math and reading portions of the Maryland School Assessments dropped. Math scores at Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg declined; its reading scores improved.
The two schools were forced to restructure staff for failing to meet state test score requirements for four years. New principals were brought in to help, and staff was asked to reapply for their jobs. This year was a planning year for future improvement efforts.
The Maryland State Department of Education released the scores last week.
Despite the results, the schools’ principals, Parcan at Neelsville and Arthur Williams at Forest Oak, say the student have many achievements to celebrate.
Many subgroups — which are sorted by race, low-income, English language learners and special education students — made gains this year, and met newly-established state targets.
And the principals say test scores only are one indicator of student progress.
At Forest Oak, students met state targets for math exams in each subgroup, although the percentage passing in most groups slipped from last year. The overall percentage of students who passed the math exam slipped 5.1 percent, to 73.4 percent. The most significant drop was seen for special education students, where fewer than half of students, or about 49.5 percent, passed the exam — that was 9.1 percent less than last year.
At Neelsville in Germantown, special education students’ passing rate on math exams also dropped, by 9.2 percent, to 27.8 percent. All other subgroups at Neelsville met state targets for the math exams. The most significant progress was for English language learners, where the passing rate increased by 6.3 percent to 51.2 percent. Overall passing rate decreased by 1 percent, to 61.3 percent.
On reading exams at Forest Oak, the percentage of students who passed increased slightly — 85 percent compared to 84.6 percent. The school met all of its state targets for reading. Significant progress was made for Hispanic and low-income students. Passing rates for those groups increased by 2.8 and 3.5 percent, respectively.
At Neelsville, overall reading proficiency dropped by 3.7 percent, to 80.2 percent, below the state and county averages. The percentage of passing Hispanic students in seventh grade fell from 84 percent to 74.5 percent.
Parcan said she does not think lower scores reflect student performance. She said her school did see improvements in student grade point averages.
The schools worked with Montgomery County Public Schools central office staff to create improvement plans that detail student needs and goals, and staff development and management strategies to meet the goals.
Parcan said this year Neelsville focused on implementing the changes, which include rolling out new curriculum and beginning the process of becoming a Middle Years International Baccalaureate Programme, a kind of specialized course program similar to Advanced Placement. She said turning around a failing school takes about three years, when she thinks test scores will see significant gains.
This past school year, all students were required to take advanced-level English and world studies classes in hopes that challenging them academically would better prepare them for high school, Parcan said.
The number of students enrolling in and passing Algebra I, considered an advanced math course by eighth grade, has been dropping at Neelsville during the past three years.
Williams, the Forest Oak principal, said he is proud of the staff and student accomplishments at his school, as he said it was a challenging and emotional year.
“There was some tension with the staff, because of the restructuring,” said Marisel Schank, PTA president. “Morale was low, but I think teachers handled it very well.”
Williams said he expects to see a turnaround in student achievement in three to five years, although he wanted to make clear that Forest Oak is not a broken school.
“We have a lot to celebrate and there is not a whole lot that needs to be changed,” Williams said.
The school’s instructional leadership team will meet next week to talk about what is next, he said.
More than 30 staff members left, and the school will bring on a math resource teacher, who will lead the math department.
Williams said the school will ensure math classes will meet all students’ needs consistently.
Staff continue training sessions, and are attending one this week about teaching the adolescent mind, he said.
“Test scores give you a picture of how you are doing, but I care about what is happening every day, and every kid having a great teacher and a great learning experience,” Williams said. “Because if you do that every day ... the tests will take care of themselves.”
Schank, who just had a student graduate from the school and has a rising seventh-grader, said she believes her children are still getting proper education as the school undergoes the transition. Her graduate is well-prepared for high school, she said.
“They were not shortchanged,” she said. “They had a good year.”