Recent numbers from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers data show Carroll schools improved in most areas of the test.
The PARCC test was conducted this past spring in grades 3 through 8, and high school students were tested in algebra and English. Students' scores fall into one of five categories: exceeded expectations, met expectations, approached expectations, partially met expectations and did not meet expectations.
But what the data also show is achievement gaps, especially when it comes to students in special education, and those who qualify for free and reduced meals, or FARMS. Only 34.5 percent of students qualifying for FARMS met or exceeded expectations for 10th-grade English, and only about 31 percent met or exceeded expectations for Algebra I. Those numbers increase to 63 percent for 10th-graders in Carroll who passed (met or exceeded expectations) the English portion of the test. In Algebra I, about half of Carroll students — 52.4 percent — passed.
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute has been known for pumping out top math and science students for more than a century. So perhaps it isn't surprising that the elite city high school has the highest pass rate of any in the region on the tough new state Algebra I exam. The Baltimore Sun analyzed 2016 scores on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career and ranked Baltimore-area elementary, middle and high schools.
The Times reached out to all four candidates to ask what they think the school system needs to do to close this and other achievement gaps.
The candidates are retired Carroll County schools teacher Marsha Herbert, of Westminster; Howard County teacher Julie Kingsley, of Mount Airy; former Carroll County schools instructional assistant Mary Kowalski, of Westminster; and actuary Donna Sivigny, of Finksburg.
This is the fifth question in a five-day series leading up to the start of early voting, which runs Oct. 27 to Nov. 3. Election day is Nov. 8. The candidates were asked to respond in 150 words or less.
The recent BOE focus on funding and school closings has made us lose focus on student achievement — the main goal and mission CCPS. The emphasis on testing and teaching to the test has students who need intervention and support lost in the shuffle while number crunchers analyze how our students performed on a test versus some other jurisdiction. I will make discussion of student achievement a priority again when I serve on the BOE.
Carroll County scores in this area are consistent with other jurisdictions across the state. Unfortunately, this population of students [FARM] can be a very difficult population to reach and reach well. Students from low-income households come to school with an increased level of cognitive and emotional impairments and have a higher rate of learning disabilities. One of the best things we can do for them is to have high-quality teachers in the classroom, as well as the support staff in place to help with the increased needs of these students.
According to a recent efficiency report published by CCPS, Carroll County is last in the state in the number of support staff they have available in their classrooms. Also, studies have shown that an experienced teacher is far more effective in a classroom with low-income students, so it is important that Carroll County attract and retain high-quality, experienced teachers.
There are many things that can be done to close the achievement gaps in our school system. However, first and foremost, we need to be sure that the curriculum that is taught in our schools is of the highest quality. Unfortunately, Common Core is eroding the quality of our academic program at the elementary, middle and high school levels. In addition, the associated testing has decreased instruction time and threatens to usurp local testing measures.
Unfortunately, Common Core has been heavily promoted by government and media propaganda. Nevertheless, in order to improve achievement in the long term, not only for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, but for all students, I believe it is vital to find a way to replace Common Core with a stronger, locally controlled academic program.
On the positive side, Carroll County students and educators deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the outstanding results from PARCC testing, and obtaining some of the best results in the state!
Reducing achievement gaps for students qualifying for FARMS could be addressed by building targeted teacher capacity and improving existing training in areas such as poverty simulations, education that is multicultural, and under-represented populations.
Additionally, since all PARCC testing is computer-based, provide more exposure to technology which this group of students might not get at home, and provide a strong support system at school. These students may be at a significant disadvantage from this one reason alone.
Montgomery County has undertaken a large-scale project to address similar issues, and Harvard has completed a study on their actions and progress. This would be an excellent case study to use for laying groundwork to address concerns in our own county.
This is the fifth of a five-day series of questions answered by Board of Education candidates leading up to early voting, which begins today. To review the candidates' unedited answers to these five questions, as well as to five questions that haven't appeared in print, go to www.carrollcountytimes.com/elections.