Montgomery County Public Schools officials say that there are still gaps in educational attainment, particularly in math, among students resulting from learning disruptions that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Montgomery County Board of Education received detailed data at its meeting Thursday on students’ overall educational attainment in math and literacy during the 2021-2022 school year. The data showed that fewer students in eighth and 11th grade demonstrated attainment in math during the 2021-2022 school year than in the 2020-2021 school year, based on the evaluation method used.
Students returned to in-person instruction last school year after learning remotely during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight said at the beginning of the meeting that it’s important that the district continues to evaluate learning in order to determine how it has been impacted and what the needs are.
“In a system of this size, we have to constantly look at who needs what, what does that look like from an equity lens, and how do we differentiate for those learning needs,” she said.
MCPS’s evaluation, known as the evidence of learning framework, looks at three types of measures: Classroom measures, based on report cards and information from teachers; district measures, based on district assessments aligned with the curriculum; and “external” measures, based on performance on external assessments such as the SAT and ACT.
During Thursday’s meeting, school district officials presented educational attainment data for grades two, five, eight and 11, based on how the students performed at the end of the school year.
In math, about 75% of students in second grade overall demonstrated evidence of learning, compared to 53.7% in fifth grade, 46.3% in eighth grade and 60.5% in 11th grade.
The district also presented data showing whether more students for each grade demonstrated educational attainment when compared to the 2020-2021 school year or if the percentage decreased. Within each grade, the data was broken down by six racial/ethnic groups: Asian, white, Hispanic/Latino, Black or African American, two or more races and other. Other categories included students who receive free and reduced price meals, (FARMS), special education students and emerging multilingual (EML) students.
- For second-grade math, every racial group saw gains in educational attainment of three to 16 percentage points between the academic years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. The increase was between eight and 17 points for EML, FARMS and special education students.
- For fifth-grade math, FARMS and EML students saw gains, but the data shows that special education students experienced a drop of less than 1 percentage point. Most racial groups saw increases of two to five points, but the “all other” category saw an 11-percentage point drop.
- For eighth-grade math, FARMS, EML and special education students experienced decreases of 12 to 13 percentage points. Each racial group experienced a decreased of eight to 20 points.
- For 11th-grade math, FARMS and EML students experienced a small drop of 2 percentage points, while special education students saw an increase of 1.6 points. Black, white, Latino and Asian students all experienced small decreases of less than 2 percentage points. There was a 26-percentage point decrease in the “all other” group.
Kisha Logan, MCPS director of pre-K-12 curriculum and districtwide programs, said Thursday the district will continue to monitor progress on district and external assessments, and also plans to expand its use of the Eureka Math tool, which is a pre-diagnostic screening tool for teachers.
“While planning for a unit or a lesson, they’re able to assess what kind of knowledge students bring with them to that lesson, and then they can plan adjustments accordingly,” she said.
Logan also suggested Thursday that there was significant disruption to students’ learning during the pandemic and she said the district has had to modify its pacing guides to account for missed instruction.
“While we use this data as a flashlight to illuminate opportunities for change and for progress, the data also presents cause for concern as well as a sense of urgency and a need for us in our work to be strategic and timely and monitor for effectiveness,” Logan said.
The literacy data, compared to the math data, showed mostly gains in educational attainment among students in grades two, five, eight and 11. Most racial and ethnic groups, as well as FARMS, EML and special education students, experienced improvement during the prior school year when compared to the 2020-2021 academic year. However, in grade eight literacy, there was a decrease of less than two percentage points among white students and those in the two or more races and special education categories. And in 11th grade, there was a decrease of 17.5 percentage points in the “all other” racial group.
Board President Brenda Wolff said she noticed that the number of students meeting educational attainment goals in the classroom measure was significantly higher than the district category.
“Aren’t we assessing what they’re teaching in the classroom? Is there some disconnect there somewhere? Because it looks as though the external is higher than the district,” she said.
Kecia Addison of the Office of Shared Accountability said the classroom measure is what teachers see day to day when it comes to student performance. District measures are metrics based on a specific assessment at a certain point in time during the school year.
“The intent is to kind of see similarities among across the different measures. So when we think about the classroom measure, the district measure and the external measure, ideally we want to see a student performing similarly across them,” she said.
Board member Lynne Harris pointed out that by the time an assessment is given, a student might not be caught up with the material, and wondered whether that factored into the educational attainment results. Logan said the disruption from the pandemic likely did factor in, and she hopes that adjusting the pacing calendars can help fix the problem.
“I think that’s certainly a part of what we’re seeing here, especially given where we were with teachers seeing students coming in with missed instruction,” Logan said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org