MCPS Considers Changes to Middle and High School Assessments

June 23, 2015

Public can provide feedback on options through July 10

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is considering changes to its assessment program to increase instructional time and reduce the time spent on testing. As part of MCPS’ review of its overall assessment program, options for possible changes to final exams given in middle and high school were discussed with the Montgomery County Board of Education’s Strategic Planning Committee on Monday (June 22, 2015) and will be presented to the full Board in July.

The options were developed in response to concerns expressed by the Board, students, staff, parents, and community members regarding the number of state and local tests given in MCPS and the amount of instructional time lost due to test preparation and administration.

In March, Board President Patricia O’Neill and Board Member Phil Kauffman, chair of the Policy Management Committee, sent a letter to Interim Superintendent Larry A. Bowers asking that the district consider changes to its testing program. Maryland State Superintendent Lillian Lowery has also asked all districts in the state to review their testing programs and the General Assembly has created a task force to research the testing load on public school students across the state.

“Assessment is an important part of any instructional program, but we must make sure our tests are providing meaningful data and are not taking too much time away from instruction,” Mr. Bowers said. “We look forward to discussing these options with the Board at their July meeting and making thoughtful changes that will benefit our students.”

Mrs. O’Neill thanked the Strategic Planning Committee members—Christopher Barclay (chair), Judy Docca, and Jill Ortman-Fouse—for their thorough and thoughtful conversation about this important topic.

“I am pleased that the district has developed these options that would ease the testing burden on our students while still embracing accountability,” Mrs. O’Neill said. “I look forward to a robust discussion with staff and my Board colleagues.”

Currently, middle and high schools are required to administer end-of-semester exams in many courses. These two-hour exams are given at the end of each semester, in January and June. MCPS has developed four options that would restore between two and four weeks of instruction during the school year and reduce the amount of testing while maintaining accountability measures for student performance.  

Options Being Considered

Option A (middle school classes)

Starting with the 2015-2016 school year, a two-hour cumulative exam will not be given in middle school classes that do not qualify for high school credit. Marking period and/or unit assessments will be used instead. Middle school classes that do qualify for high school credit, such as Algebra 1 and Geometry, will follow the high school assessment protocols.

Option B (middle schools and high schools—classes that have high school credit)

No centrally developed, end-of-semester exams will be administered. This would start in the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year for courses that are assessed by the state (Algebra, Algebra 2, Biology, English 10, and Government) and other courses would follow in later years. Variations on this option would only eliminate the exams in subjects that are assessed by the state or would only eliminate the second semester exams in all courses.

Option C (middle schools and high schools—classes that have high school credit)

Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, keep cumulative exams, but administer them over multiple class periods rather than two-hour blocks. 

Option D (middle schools and high schools—classes that have high school credit)

Beginning in 2016-2017, replace end-of-semester exams with centrally-developed, in-class assessments that are given at specific times throughout the school year. Examples of these types of assessments could be unit tests, essays, projects, portfolios, document-based questions, and more.

Gathering Feedback

The Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs has used focus groups to engage numerous stakeholders, including employees, parents, students, and community members. This includes:  

  • Elected teacher representatives from the Councils on Teaching and Learning, which gathered feedback from the teachers and staff in their schools;
  • Two focus groups of members from the Montgomery County Council of PTAs;
  • Curriculum advisory groups that represent teachers, administrators, and support staff;
  • Middle school and high school principals;
  • Student focus groups at two high schools and one middle school;
  • Members of the MCPS Latino Student Achievement Action Group and the MCPS African American Student Achievement Action Group, who participated in a focus group and submitted written feedback.

Members of the public who wish to provide their comments are asked to review the assessment options website and complete a short online comment form. All input should be provided no later than Friday, July 10, so that it can be reviewed prior to the Board’s discussion on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

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