Highly Rigorous Semester Exams Continue in Five Core Subjects

February 21, 2002
The implementation of highly rigorous countywide semester examinations in core subjects continues this year, as part of the newly established system of shared accountability for the Montgomery County Public Schools.

The five exams -- English 9; Algebra 1; Geometry; Biology; and National, State, and Local Government (NSL) -- each provide “the most extensive assessments of student mastery of course objectives in Maryland, with each test designed to examine student achievement on a consistent basis among and within each middle and high school across Montgomery County,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education [see link below to file for the report released today, Thursday, February 21, 2002].

The semester exams are part of a continuum of accountability measures, beginning in kindergarten and extending through high school, that MCPS is using to ensure that students accomplish a consistently high level of academic preparation and achievement. The tests also will help ensure that students attain a level of proficiency that will surpass the requirements expected on the state’s High School Assessments (HSA), which will be mandatory for graduation in 2007.

The first semester success rate for students taking the exams by Grade 10 demonstrates that, cumulatively, more than 70 percent of tenth grade students (including those who took the tests before Grade 10) are estimated to have passed the semester exams in English 9 and Algebra 1. Similarly, approximately 65 percent of tenth graders have passed the NSL test, approximately 55 percent have passed the Geometry test, and about 50 percent have passed the Biology test.

In the courses offered early, either in middle school (Algebra 1 and Geometry) or in Grade 9 (Biology), the success rate for advanced students is significantly higher and reflects the achievements of a large percentage of students.

Students who took the Algebra 1 test in middle school, for example, represent nearly half of the secondary school students enrolled in this course. Among these advanced eighth graders, 92.9 percent passed the test. Similarly, 96.2 percent of the advanced eighth graders and 85.3 percent of advanced ninth graders enrolled in Geometry passed the test. Among the advanced ninth graders taking Biology, 70.6 percent passed the test.

Overall, the total percentage of students enrolled in each course through Grade 12 who passed the tests was: English 9 (85.4 percent), NSL (71.9 percent), Algebra 1 (70.8 percent, including middle school students), Geometry (61.8 percent, including middle school students), and Biology (52.2 percent).

Particular attention is being given now to students who are taking Algebra 1 in Grade 9 and Biology in Grade 10, where there is a comparatively lower success rate on the exams. In Grade 9, the percentage of students enrolled in Algebra 1 who passed the exam was 59.6 percent. In Grade 10, the passing rate for Biology was 50.7 percent among students enrolled in the course.

The higher level of success on the English 9 exam (85.7 percent among Grade 9 students enrolled in the course) provides “a benchmark that can be used to compare the successful implementation of the other courses and exams across the county, particularly when focusing on the alignment of instruction with the curriculum and the response by students to the increased academic rigor these exams represent,” said Dr. Weast.

The superintendent also said that the “variance among schools in the percentage of students passing the tests continues to be an area of concern.”

An analysis of the examinations is being made to ensure the reliability and validity of the exams, with special attention on the Biology and Geometry assessments. This step is important in order to ensure that the individual student data being gained from the tests can be used to continue making improvements in the course curriculum, instructional strategies, and the preparation of students in earlier grades.

This year, high school students will be required to take the state HSA with the scores recorded on their transcripts. By the end of the 2003-2004 school year, beginning with the class of 2007, students will be required to pass the exams in order to graduate.

Middle and high schools are continuing to strengthen the rigor of their instructional programs and provide additional support for students by offering literacy classes and assistance in all content areas during the regular school day, the summer, and before and after school. Efforts also are under way to ensure that teachers are prepared to implement the rigorous course content, curriculum, and materials associated with each of the five courses being examined.

Staff members in the Office of Shared Accountability (OSA) and the Office of Instruction and Program Development (OIPD) are conducting a preliminary analysis of the exam results to ensure alignment with the school system’s curriculum and to ensure that the tests exceed the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) goals and standards.

In addition, the following steps are being taken:

* Community superintendents and directors of school performance will work with individual schools and principals to analyze their data and to articulate their plans for increasing student success on the countywide semester exams, particularly in Biology and Geometry, and preparations for the state’s assessments.

* Content supervisors and instructional specialists from OIPD will collaborate with staff development specialists from the Office of Staff Development (OSD) and the directors of school performance to continue to work directly with schools to provide administrators, resource, and classroom teachers with professional development on the instructional implications of the countywide semester exams and other accountability components. This will include working directly with teachers to ensure that the rigorous expectations of the course curricula are being taught and that teachers have access and training to implement successfully the requirements of the instructional program and materials. The implications of the upcoming state HSA also will be included in the ongoing preparations.

* OIPD and OSA will conduct a “rescoring” of a random sample of constructed responses (essays) from the final examinations, to establish a scoring range and to select student anchor papers representing the range of responses. The results of this rescoring also will establish staff development needs for classroom and resource teachers.

* Achieve, Inc., will be conducting an external review of the county’s final examinations to ensure alignment with the school system’s strengthened curriculum, the county’s expectations for a rigorous instructional program, and the effort to surpass the expectations of the MSDE Core Learning Goals.

Note: The link below provides the report (as a PDF file) to the Board of Education and the system and individual school data on the countywide semester exams.

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