PARCC Results Are a New Beginning
By Patricia B. O’Neill
The first results from new state assessments were released last week, and the scores are certainly eye-opening for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the entire state of Maryland. In MCPS, less than half of our students met or exceeded state standards on the Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and English 10 exams developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
Our students performed significantly better than their peers across the state and, overall, MCPS did better than most of Maryland’s 23 other school districts. And that’s good. But it is still pretty shocking to see that only 39 percent of our students demonstrated college and career readiness on the Algebra 1 PARCC exam, 31 percent on Algebra 2, and 44 percent on English 10. These are not the kind of results we are used to seeing in Montgomery County and, for many, these outcomes may be a bit shocking. (Results of Grade 3–8 PARCC assessments in English language arts and mathematics will be released next month.)
Of even greater concern to me, my Board colleagues, and the leadership of MCPS are the significant gaps in performance between African American and Hispanic MCPS students and their White and Asian peers. The results for students who receive English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and special education services, as well as those who are impacted by poverty, also are significantly lower than the performance of our district, overall.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do in order to ensure our students are prepared for success in the 21st century. These results should affirm our commitment to closing the achievement gap and putting a stronger focus on the academic core of literacy and mathematics. This will be an important consideration as we build a budget request for next school year—how should we allocate our current resources and where do we need to invest more to make sure we are providing the knowledge, skills, and opportunities our students need to thrive in school, in the workplace, and in life? I look forward to that conversation with our community and our county leaders.
To that end, the PARCC results must be put in their proper context.
This is the first year of new exams that are not only more rigorous than previous state assessments (MSA and HSA), but also ask our students to demonstrate what they know and can do in different ways. Change, however, is hard: When the state of Maryland switched to the MSAs in the early 2000s, test scores dropped, and we expected it this time as well. It also should be noted that students did not need to pass the PARCC tests in Algebra 1 and English 10 in order to graduate—they only had to take it. Thus, we don’t know exactly what impact that may have had on student performance. When the graduation requirement kicks back in next school year, my guess is we will see significantly better outcomes.
The real power of the PARCC results will come in December, when parents and teachers get individual student reports. We will use this data to improve teaching and learning and provide our students with the support they need to ensure success.
The results were not what we had hoped, but we see this as an opportunity to deepen our commitment to providing all students with a world-class education that prepares them to thrive in their future.