School System Praised for Academic Standards

February 10, 2003
The following statement was released today [Monday, February 10] by Achieve, Inc., an independent, bipartisan, non-profit organization that, among initiatives, helps states benchmark academic standards and assessments against the best national and international examples.

Achieve Praises Montgomery County
Schools' Standards & Tests For Quality,
Alignment With State Goals

WASHINGTON – Feb. 10, 2003 – Montgomery County Public Schools has succeeded in aligning its own standards and tests to Maryland's standards and in extending the state's benchmarks in some ways, resulting in a challenging set of academic expectations and measures, according to a report released today by Achieve, Inc.

The report, Measuring Up Montgomery County, is Achieve's first examination of the critical role of local school districts in building on state school improvement policies based on higher standards and accountability for results.

The drive nationally to raise standards and measure results has come first and foremost at the state level, but states face practical and political challenges in ushering higher standards through the classroom door. Local school districts that have traditionally controlled curriculum and instruction have struggled as well to incorporate state standards into the daily work of teachers and students. Montgomery County offers a noteworthy example of the powerful role local school systems must play in successfully leveraging state-level reforms.

"Montgomery County has found ways to focus on Maryland's standards, to build in high expectations of its own, and to convey these demands clearly to teachers, parents and students," said Achieve President Michael Cohen.

Achieve examined Montgomery County's Curriculum Frameworks in English language arts and math from kindergarten through 12th grade and county-designed semester tests in high school 9th-grade English, algebra and geometry. Since 1999, Achieve has conducted similar reviews for 15 states.

Montgomery County asked Achieve to evaluate its standards and tests as Maryland is beginning a new testing program with assessments designed to measure its standards more closely. In addition, the state has put in place a more challenging set of high school end-of-course tests that students in the class of 2007 must pass to graduate.

The Montgomery County Frameworks align well with Maryland's Content Standards in kindergarten through 8th grade and the state's high school Core Learning Goals, Achieve found. The school system extended the state's standards, which are set only in four key grades, by developing its frameworks grade-by-grade.

In addition, Montgomery County addressed a common shortcoming in many states' standards by explicitly defining the knowledge and skills students should demonstrate with clarifying examples. For instance, the 8th-grade framework illustrates a standard by listing a newspaper editorial, a resume, a short story and an essay as types of writing students should be able to do.

Although its findings mainly were positive, Achieve noted several key areas that need to be strengthened if Montgomery County's curriculum is to be on par with the best standards in the United States and abroad. For example, the English language arts frameworks should pay greater attention to phonemic awareness and vocabulary study in the early grades. In math, more algebra should be introduced in middle school to allow for more rigorous coursework in high school.

High expectations are particularly important given the county's ambitious goal of ensuring no graduate will enter college requiring remedial coursework and that most students will do some college-level work prior to leaving high school.
Meeting this college preparedness goal will require Montgomery County to raise the level of rigor in its tests for Algebra I, Geometry and honors-level English 9. Achieve found the county's tests generally to be well-constructed and challenging, which should prepare students for Maryland's new end-of-course exams. But it concluded that they may not demand enough to prepare students fully for courses such as AP English or Calculus by 12th grade.

While Achieve did not include them in its formal study, the group noted the importance of standards-based instructional guides and diagnostic assessments developed by the county to support teachers in their day-to-day work. "MCPS has made remarkable progress in creating and continually improving an aligned system of frameworks, instructional guides, diagnostic tests and other instructional supports," Achieve concluded. "There is more work to be done, for sure, but this careful attention to high standards and capacity should go a long way toward helping teachers and students understand and meet the intellectual demands of the 21st century."

"Montgomery County has its share of high-performing students and schools, of which it is rightfully proud. But it also has had students who have achieved far less," said Matthew Gandal, Achieve's executive vice president who will present the report's findings to Montgomery County school officials on Tuesday. "The county now has a chance to ensure schools help all students reach high standards."

Created at the 1996 National Education Summit, Achieve, Inc., ( is an independent, bipartisan, non-profit organization overseen by a board of six governors and six corporate leaders. Achieve's mission is to help states improve schools by benchmarking their academic standards and assessments against the best national and international examples, providing sustained public leadership and advocacy to raise standards and student performance, and serving as a resource center on standards-based reform. Achieve is based in Washington.

[Note: A PDF copy of the full report can be accessed at the link below.]

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