Montgomery County officials grapple with student achievement gap -- Gazette.Net


Montgomery County’s longstanding student achievement gap will bring together county and school officials as they try to hammer out ways to shrink those differences between high schools that have low or high levels of student poverty.

The Montgomery County Council’s Education Committee, county Board of Education officers and Superintendent Joshua P. Starr plan to meet Monday to discuss a recent report showing that 11 high-poverty and 14 low-poverty public high schools are at two ends of a widening gap when it comes to both academic performance and student demographics.

County and school officials say the meeting will provide a chance to talk about efforts, both current and planned, to address the gaps and expectations for results from those efforts.

The report released in April from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight said the school system’s approach to boosting student achievement at its high-poverty schools “is not working as intended.”

Gaps between the high- and low-poverty schools have grown during the last several years based on four of seven measures, including Advanced Placement test scores, SAT and ACT scores, and out-of-school suspensions, according to the report.

The high-poverty schools also have most of the county’s black and Latino students — and increasingly so since 2010. Most of the system’s white and East and South Asian students attend the low-poverty schools, also in growing numbers since 2010.

Council President Craig L. Rice said the Education Committee — which he chairs — expects the school system to share its plan for “moving the needle” on the achievement gap, as well as provide a time frame for when those changes should come about.

Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said that in the past, he has asked the school system to detail when efforts to close the achievement gap will produce results.

“I’m not saying it has to happen in one year. The achievement gap did not happen in one year, so I don’t expect it to be solved in a year,” he said. “At the same time, I think that, overall, for us, it really needs to be one in which we do start to ask for when we should expect to see results.”

School board President Philip Kauffman said school officials aim to share how the system has been working to close the gap, plus plans funded in the latest budget.

Starr said the county report showed what school officials already knew about the gap and he questioned why it was done.

Kauffman said, however, that he thinks the report provides “additional information” through its comparison of high- and low-poverty high schools that he thinks is useful.

He said he doesn’t think the school system will be able to say that it will have closed the gap by a certain year. Schools officials can rather share what goals and targets they’ve set for improvements, he said.

Patricia O’Neill, the school board’s vice president, said she thinks a realistic approach for the school system is making incremental targets in specific areas, such as the graduation rate and algebra grades.

For O’Neill, an important point to convey during Monday’s meeting is that the gap cannot be closed by any one thing and that the challenges are growing.

“It’s a complicated issue,” she said. “It’s a moving target every year.”

Kauffman said he also hopes the meeting will help produce “a shared understanding” of why the gap exists and that county officials also have a role to play in closing it.

Rice said he also thinks the council bears responsibility.

“This is a partnership and the only way we are going to get out of this very large and persistent and pervasive problem is for us to do it together,” he said.

Gail Sunderman — director of the Maryland Equity Project at the University of Maryland’s College of Education — said she hopes that the discussion includes the county’s increasing poverty and how the system might work to better diversify schools based on income.

Sunderman cited a 2010 report by the Century Foundation that compared high-poverty Montgomery students who attended high-poverty schools, with high-poverty students who lived in mixed-income neighborhoods and therefore attended more diverse schools.

The students from the more diverse neighborhoods and schools performed better “by far and away,” she said.

Monday’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the council’s offices at 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville.