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Board of Education Examines Middle School Curriculum to Increase Rigor and Challenge for Students
At its March 14 meeting, the Board voted for Superintendent Jerry D. Weast to report back at the September meeting with a comprehensive report and recommended changes to the existing middle school policy, once the state task force report has been finalized, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) curriculum audits have been completed and key stakeholder groups have identified the resources needed to eliminate barriers to the implementation of an effective middle school program.
The MLYTF is proposing three major recommendations:
Many of the MLYTF recommendations are consistent with existing MCPS policy. In a memo prepared for the Board, Weast noted that MCPS will undertake a number of additional measures as part of a comprehensive plan to secure rigor and challenge for all middle grade students. They include:
To ensure a middle school program that "raises the bar and closes the gap," Weast said, several structures must be available. They include an organization with clear guidelines for grouping students, a challenging curriculum and varied instructional practices to challenge all students.
Assessments must match instruction, promote student learning and establish high student performance standards. Staff development is needed to enhance content knowledge, instructional practices and awareness of the developmental needs of young adolescents.
Some barriers do exist and must be overcome before change can occur, said Weast. The MCPS review found that many of the proposed recommendations are consistent with existing system policy.
They include pressures on facilities that restrict flexible grouping; lack of a comprehensive, consistent set of administrative training modules; lack of qualified leaders for interdisciplinary teams or resource teaching positions; lack of guidelines and support for grouping that responds to student needs; testing practices that restrict instruction time; and the combination of increased enrollment and shortage of teacher applications.
Progress under way
Still, progress is being made:
Although some middle schools are implementing responsive organizational designs, using effective research-based instructional practices and assessments, and conducting staff development programs, inconsistencies exist among schools countywide.
One sign of such inconsistency, Weast noted, is that middle school students' performance on CRT and MSPAP assessments has not improved at the same rate as performance of elementary school students-something the state task force report also noted as a statewide problem.
"These data reinforce parent concerns about the lack of programs that effectively meet the needs of all students within each middle school," he said.
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