Higher Percentage of Students Score Above 60th NP

May 4, 2004
Second grade students from all racial and ethnic groups and second grade students challenged by poverty, limited English proficiency, and disabilities continued to make progress last year in performing at or above the 60th national percentile on the 2003 Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) over the previous four years, according to a new analysis of composite scores in reading, language, and mathematics.

The four-year trend is important because the improvement occurred as the second grade classes became more diverse demographically. Proportionately, fewer white students were enrolled in Grade 2 last year, compared to the 1999-2000 school year. However, there were more students receiving English language services and Hispanic students.

“A rise in achievement against a backdrop of increased diversity contradicts the commonly held belief that such demographic changes contribute to declines in performance,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education today [Tuesday, May 4].
Instead, he said that the “gains appear to reflect the success of children who benefited from the early childhood reforms and enhanced opportunities in reading, language, and mathematics since 1999.”

The improvements made over the past four years include reforms in teaching, instructional leadership, and support services, combined with changes in curriculum and student assessment. These changes continue to be the main elements of a systemwide effort by the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to systematically improve what students know and are able to do at specific grade levels.

The results of these reforms are continuing to appear in improvements in student performance on the identified benchmarks of student success. The 60th national percentile (in which students outperform 60 percent of students nationally) is a benchmark for the CTBS for the System of Shared Accountability. A new report by Dr. Carol Schatz, an evaluation specialist in the Office of Shared Accountability (OSA), analyzed the CTBS in light of composite scores for reading, language, and mathematics. The new report is available on the school system’s web site at the link below.

The CTBS is a nationally-normed assessment that was discontinued as a state assessment this year but continued by MCPS as a local measure of student performance in Grade 2. The next release of the CTBS for second grade students this year is expected in June.

The major findings include the following:

* The newly analyzed performance data, displayed in Figure 1 (see above), illustrates the consistency of the student gains across racial and ethnic groups. The continuation of the performance gap by race and ethnicity is a long-term problem that will not be eliminated quickly. Indeed, quick elimination of the gap would be highly suspect given the significant historical trends that precede this effort. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the gap has not grown over the past four years and, in some instances, it has declined on this annual assessment of reading, language, and mathematics.

* The single largest gains occurred last year with the first group of students who received the complete implementation of the early childhood reforms as kindergarten students two years earlier. The gains are particularly evident among students challenged by limited English proficiency, disabilities, and poverty (see Figure 2 above).

* In Grade 4 last year, increased diversity also characterized students who received some of the benefits of the early elementary education improvements two years earlier as second graders in 2000-2001. CTBS composite results showed modest gains in 2003 over the preceding class, with the gains continuing to be evident by race and ethnicity (see Figure 3 above). Similar gains were demonstrated among children with limited English proficiency, disabilities, and poverty.

Dr. Weast noted that Grade 4 results suggest “the continuing effect of the early elementary grade reforms over several grades, even among children who received only part of the reform effort in second grade two years ago.

“Indeed, it is obvious from data from earlier reports—combined with the continued implementation of other instructional reforms, such as the accelerated math program—that we are on the verge of significant academic performance gains,” he said.

Relationship to Other Performance Measures

Dr. Weast said the continuing monitoring of performance data as these young children advance through the school system, particularly those in third grade this year, will be increasingly important. He cited the new report on the CTBS composite scores as an example of how “in-depth research is important even as we prepare to receive completely new data” this spring when the 2004 CTBS data are released.

“Indeed, the current school year itself is quickly coming to an end, and the students who began their schooling as our first kindergarten reform class will be approaching preparation for middle school next year, where additional instructional and curricular improvements are under way,” Dr. Weast said.

“It is a significant achievement that the early elementary school reforms are now reaching the intermediate grades of elementary school,” he said. “It also is no coincidence that the concurrent emphasis on ongoing secondary school reforms—such as the greater enrollment in more rigorous courses in preparation for college—is continuing to change the orientation of middle and high schools in anticipation of better prepared students coming out of elementary school.”

Dr. Weast noted the progress already being made by high schools in “responding to the challenge.” In the last year, for example, 20 of 23 high schools were cited by Newsweek magazine as among the most challenging schools in the nation. More recently, the Wall Street Journal identified three high schools as among the most successful nationally in placing qualified students in prestigious colleges and universities.

Such indicators are building on the increase in students completing Algebra 1 or higher level math by the end of Grade 8 and the increasingly higher percentage of students taking at least one Honors and Advanced Placement course each year. The increased emphasis on college preparation is evident in the newly released exit survey responses of last year’s graduates, the vast majority of whom indicated plans and preparations to attend college.

“It may well be that the school system’s emphasis on more students taking Advanced Placement tests for college credit and preparing themselves for success on the SAT will produce substantively greater results each year,” Dr. Weast said.

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