About one in four middle schools in Montgomery County, or 10 of 38 schools, successfully narrowed racial achievement gaps in test scores during a three-year period, according to a report released last week by Montgomery County Public Schools.
The school system has been working to narrow the gaps for decades, and it remains a focus of its strategic plan, school system spokesman Dana Tofig said.
The report studied students’ results on the Maryland School Assessments, annual exams administered to all middle school students, and student performance in Algebra 1 or higher math classes, from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2010-2011 school year.
Historically in the school system and nationwide, black and Hispanic students have lagged behind their peers in state exams.
Joseph A. Hawkins, who worked in the school system’s accountability office for 19 years as an evaluation specialist, said he expected more schools to progress, given the focus that previous superintendent Jerry D. Weast placed on narrowing achievement gaps.
Of the middle school students who took the state math exam last year, 93.4 percent of Asian students passed, 92 percent of white students passed, 64.6 percent of black students passed and 66.3 percent of Hispanic students passed. On the reading exam, 96.6 percent of white students passed, 95.3 percent of Asian students passed, 83 percent of black students passed, and 81.7 percent of Hispanic students passed.
“Given all of the money that we spent in the Weast years and now in the Starr years, I expected a little bit more progress than this,” Hawkins said.
The goal of the report was to go beyond showing where the gaps are, but rather to identify some of the characteristics of middle schools that have had success in narrowing the achievement gap, Tofig said.
The report was written by Elizabeth Cooper-Martin, an evaluation specialist for the school system’s accountability office. In the report, the school system classified schools that had narrowed gaps as those in which all students had improved performance in at least one area, and at which the performance of African-American or Hispanic students improved at a higher rate compared to all students.
The report did not state which middle schools narrowed the gap, or give results for individual schools.
The study asked three teachers at each school to complete a survey regarding school policies, strategies and practices.
According to the teachers’ responses, the schools that succeeded in closing gaps had far different practices than those that did not.
Teachers at schools that narrowed the gaps said their school had stronger school leadership, was more focused on the goal of closing the gap, was more data-driven, offered more opportunities for collaborative work, and had better communication with leaders and students.
Hawkins discounted the school system’s report, stating that the way the school system defined narrowing the gap was “inappropriate.”
The school system historically has made comparisons between subgroups — comparing the achievement of white and Asian students to their black and Hispanic peers.
In the report released Tuesday, the school system compared the results of black and Hispanic student groups to the results of all students at the school.
Comparing students that way would make comparisons look better, Hawkins said.
The report recommended that the school system collect more detailed information about the specific strategies, structures and processes of successful schools.
Tofig said that the school system will be working in coming years to share best practices.