# Letter: Why the report cards were delayed

A June 27, 2014 memo from Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to the county Board of Education, explaining a delay in report cards because of a recalculation of low grades in Algebra 1B. Schools officials added 15 percentage points to every grade, saying there was a loss of instructional time due to preparation for state tests and weather closures. Read related article.

Office of the Superintendent of Schools

MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Rockville, Maryland

June 27, 2014

MEMORANDUM

To:

Members of the Board of Education

From:

Joshua P. Starr, Superintendent of Schools

Subj ect:

June 2014 Algebra 1B Semester Exam Grades Recalculation

Last week, following the posting of semester exam grades, staff undertook a

comprehensive review of the most recent countywide mathematics semester exam results.

Exam grades revealed an increase in low and failing grades in Algebra 1B inconsistent

with previous June mathematics exam results. The grades also were lower than the

January 2014 Algebra 1A semester exam results in both middle and high schools.

Principals and teachers have identified loss of instructional time due to the need for

additional preparation for state tests as a major reason for the exam performance.

Considering the lost instructional time, and the potential impact on students in middle

school earning high school credit for Algebra 1, a systemwide grade recalculation has

been completed and will be reflected in report cards being mailed today. The grade

recalculation aligns student results to levels similar to the June 2013 Algebra 1B and

January Algebra 1A exam administration. No student grades were negatively impacted by

this grade recalculation.

This memorandum provides more information about exam performance, the unique

circun1stances that impacted students taking Algebra 1 this year, and the steps we are

taking to ensure we do not harm the academic record of students due to circumstances

that are beyond their control. These steps include recalculating the exam grades by

adding 15 percentage points to each test score and offering additional, free opportunities

for reteaching and retesting during the summer.

We have expressed our concerns about the misalignment of state tests with the new

curriculum and the impact this is having on our students. In March, Board of Education

President Phil Kauffman sent Maryland State Superintendent Lillian Lowery a letter

raising concerns about the transition from the High School Assessments (HSA) to the

new assessments, and asked her to consider temporarily removing the high stakes nature

of the HSA until the transition was complete. We will continue to express these concerns

to the State Superintendent, the Maryland State Board of Education and the Maryland

General Assembly.

Members ofthe Board of Education

2

June 27,2014

Data

While semester exam performance has been an area of concern for me, members of the

Board of Education, and the public, the results from the Algebra 1B exam demonstrated

there were extenuating circumstances that specifically impacted students who took this

course.

Initial semester exam data showed that 23 percent of middle school students and 82

percent of high school students failed the exam. In June 2013, 10 percent of middle

school students and 68 percent of high school students failed the Algebra 1B exam. (See

the table in Attachment A)

Perhaps most telling is that the initial 2014 Algebra lB failure rate was significantly

higher than it was for the Algebra 1A exam, which was taken in January 2014 by

virtually the same students. On the 2014 Algebra lA exam, 12 percent of middle school

students and 61 percent of high school students earned a failing grade.

We also did not see a significant change on math semester exan1 performance in other

content areas, such as Geometry and Precalculus. This made it clear to us that there were

circumstances that impacted Algebra 1B exam performance that did not impact other

semester exams.

As we have said previously, poor exam results generally do not lead to course failure for

most of our high school students. At the high school level, 4,545 students took Algebra

and just 288 of them failed the course because they failed the exam. The recalculation

barely altered this number- reducing it to 275 students.

Unique Circumstances

Several factors have been identified as contributing to this unique increase in poor

Algebra 1B exam performance. First, teachers have been adjusting to a new curriculum

based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While this change itself did not

significantly affect results for the January exam administration for Algebra l A, the

combination of adjusting to a new curriculum with the other factors contributed to an

increase in exam failures for the June exam.

Second, teaching time was substantially decreased during the third and fourth marking

periods. In addition to loss of time due to weather cancellations and delays, all high

school and middle school students in this course were required to take the Maryland

Algebra/Data Analysis HSA. Middle school students in this course also were required to

take their grade-level Maryland School Assessments. Teachers have reported losing as

much as three to four weeks of instruction in preparation and administration for state

assessments. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the HSA is not aligned with CCSS.

This meant that teachers had to use even more time than in the past to develop student

Members of the Board of Education

3

June 27, 2014

understanding of concepts for HSA that are not included in the CCSS, such as data

analysis. Teachers also had to review how HSA assesses concepts taught earlier in the

year in a different manner. As I have mentioned previously, the disc01mect between

CCSS and HSA puts teachers in the very difficult position of preparing students for two

different curricula and assessment types.

Based on feedback from math resource teachers, staff members in the Office of

Curriculum and Instructional Programs (OCIP) had made adjustments to pacing calendars

and the semester exam to account for these changes, but apparently these were not

sufficient. Exam analysis revealed that the items students most frequently marked

incorrectly were from the final unit of the year. Since these items were not significantly

more difficult than the other items, it can be inferred that some students did not complete

the final topics of the curriculum.

Supporting Students

We explored options to reduce the negative consequences to student grades and support

them in their understanding of algebra. Removal of individual exam items was

considered; however, it was determined that this approach would raise some students

grades while lowering the grades of other students. Subsequently, an exam grade

recalculation was implemented resulting in alignment of this year's exam failure results

with those in June of 20 13 . The principle of not penalizing students for things beyond

their control, despite the unique circumstances that were present during the second

semester of this school year, was at the forefront of the decision to take immediate action

on the exam grades.

In light of the unique circumstances in the second semester, and the recalculation of exam

grades, MCPS will offer a summer program for any student who wishes to enhance their

Algebra 1 knowledge or participate in a reteach and reassess for the final exam. School

level budget supports for opportunities to reteach and reassess during the summer have

been reviewed and expanded. Schools will be allocated funds based on the number of

students who enroll in this summer program both at the middle and high school levels.

These opportunities will be offered free-of-charge to families. In addition, all fees will be

waived for students who participate in the Algebra l B course in summer school.

Communication

All middle and high school principals have been notified of these changes and a letter

explaining the changes is being sent to all families who had a student enrolled in Algebra

1B this spring (Attachment B). We also have developed a summary of the issues related

to the Algebra 1B semester exam performance and steps taken to support students that

will be shared with principals and others (Attachment C). We will be sharing the

information with the media who have been interested in this topic. Should you receive

any inquiries, please feel free to forward them to our Office of Communications.

Members of the Board of Education

4

June 27, 2014

Next Steps

While this was the last year of HSA administration for most students, teachers are still

adjusting to a new curriculum and aligning their instruction to support success on the

PARCC assessments. The Algebra 1 pacing calendar will be reviewed and adjusted again

for the 2014-2015 school year. Math resource teachers will be invited to provide

feedback on the pacing calendar and assessments and teachers of Algebra 1 will receive

the adjusted pacing calendar during training tllis sununer. Finally, staff members in OCIP

are exploring options to adjust the Geometry curriculum for this one year to

accommodate topics students did not reach in Algebra 1, to ensure student success in

Algebra 2.

If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Erick J. Lang, associate superintendent of

curriculum and instructional programs at 301-279-3411, Dr. Clu-istopher S. Garran,

associate superintendent of lligh schools at 301-315-7379, or Dr. Darryl L. Williams,

associate superintendent of middle schools at 301-3 15-7370.

JPS:mqm

Copy to:

Executive Staff

Attachment A

Algebra Semester Exam Failures June 2013- June 2014

Middle

School

High

School

Total

Algebra 18 June 2013

Enroll- Failed

%of

ment

Exam

Enroll.

7,560

767

10%

Algebra 1A January 2014

EnrollFailed

%of

ment

Exam

Enroll.

7,180

893

12%

Algebra 18 June 2014

Initial

En ro ll%of

Failed

ment

Exam

Enroll

7,038

1,620

23%

Algebra 18 June 2014

Grade Recalculation

EnrollFailed

%of

ment

Exam

Enroll.

7,038

862

12%

4,536

3107

68%

4,685

2,877

61%

4,545

3,713

82%

4,545

3,090

68%

12,096

3874

32%

11,865

3,770

32%

11,583

5,333

46%

11,583

3,952

34%

ATTACHMENT B

J uu~

27. 10 1-+

I)ear Parent or Guardwn.

Wr.: an~ writing to nil -nunilies lhm had a studcm enrollt!d in Alg~bra 1 B thi~ past scm<:skr

regarding unique circumstan\.:t.:S rcl.aft)d tn th~:: sem~.:sicr exam students took in Jun.:.

As Nlontgotn<.!ry ( ounty P ublic Sd 10ols (MCPS) stan· reviewed exnm rcsult~ l'or ull

!-.tudcnts in Algebra I B. u higher numh~.:r of' students than expected r~cci v~d low gntdcs.

We believe these rcsuhs arc dw.: to several reusons. most notably the need to use 'v aluuble

instrm1ionalund

..

re-..1cw time to prcp;11·c t(w misaligned state assessmems. Consequently.

all student grades wen: rccalctllutcd. resulting in a higher grade lor some stnd~nts. No

student grades were negatively impacted dul' to this grade recalculation. All report cards

J istributcd this week include the newly l'ccnlculatcd grade ft)r Algebra 1B.

As you may kno"v. thi s was th~ li rst )'t.:Hr t(lr u new curriculum and the last year fur the

Algebra and Data Analysis High School Assessment (liSA). Maryland required us to give

the f ISA, even though tho new curriculum, also required. did not Jhl.ly aligu with tht· state

assessment. Some nfthe topics, such as dnta analysis. nrc tested on the liSA, hut have been

moved to dil'lcrcnt courses in th~ new cuniculum. T~::achers found that they had m t<tlw

more timt: during th<.: spring to prepare f(>r the HSA th:m in the pttsl. Consequently. this

meant then.· was ies:-. time H>r tunchcrs to pn.:pare students lor the coun1yw ide scml.!ster

t.:xnm in June. MCPS dot;s not bdil've stutlent~ shou ld ncar.lvcrsdy impacted by curriculum

and assessment changes, so exum grades were rc.!calculated. We also will review course

contt.:m to ensure thut any concepts your sun or daughter may have missed wi ll he included

in course content after Algebra I.

For students who did not pass Lhi.! exam ailer recalculation. MCPS has expanded

opportunities for each school to offer rctcacliing and reassessment in Algebra· 113 this

summer. Each middle and high school also will contact families to provide information on

:tdditionnl summer learning opportunities specifically related to Algebra 1B.

MCJ>S is committed to helping ench student develop a deep understanding ofnwthematics.

Our goul is to ensure thnr the signiilcant changes in cun·iculum. instruction. and assessment.

currl.!ntly under way. enhance ttnJ deepen our st11dcnts' learning.

Please contact the middle or high school at which your son or daughter took Algl!bm I B if

you hnve quest ions about his or ht!r specific grade or if you are imercstcd in the reteach

and reassess opportunity that will be oflcrcd tl1is summer.

Erick .1. Laug. Ph.D.

Superintendent

Office of Cuniculum and Instructional

/\ssociat~

Progr~uns

Christopher S. Garran. Ph.D.

Assodate Superintendent of

I [igh Schools

OHice of School Support and

Improvement

ATTACHMENT B

Jum: 27.2014

Dear Pal'ent or Guardian.

We m~ writing to all f1.unili~s that had a student enrolled in J\lge.bm 1B this past semester

rcgmding unique circumstances related to the semester exam students took in June.

1\s Montgomery ( \>tnlly Public Schools (MCPS ) staff reviewed t•xmn results lor all studems in

Algebra I B. a higher number of students than expected received low grades. We believe these

results are due to sevc:ra I n.::asons. most notably the need to use valuable instmctinna l and review

time to prepare f()J' mh.;aligncd slate ussessmcnts. Couscquently. ull student ~radcs \VLm.·

rc..:alculatcd. resulting in a higher grade 1{w some students. No student grades were ncgativdy

impacted due to this gmde rccakulntion. All report cards distributed this week include the newly

recakufakd grade li.)r Algebra I B. .

As you may know, thi~ was the first year for a new cuniculum and the last year tor the Algcbr~l

and Dnta Analysis l ligh School Assessment (!I SA). Maryland required us to give the HSA,

even though the new cmricul um. also required. did not fully align w ith the state assessment

Some of the topics. such as datu analysis. arc tested on the liSA. but have been moved to

diffcrcnt .courses in the new curriculum. Teachers tound that they had to take more time during

the spring to prepare fbr th~! I fS/\ than in thu past. Consequently. th is meant thl!rc was Jess time

f(w teachers to prepare sludents for the countywide semester exam in June. MCPS docs not

bclicvc students should ht: advcrscfy impacted by curriculum and assessment changes, so cxnm

grades were r~calcultttcJ. Wt! also will review cm1rse t.:ontent to cnsur~:: that any concepts your

son or daugliter may have missed w ill be indudcd in course coment after J\igcbra 1.

For swdcnts w ho did not pass the exam atl'er recalculation. MCPS has expanded opportunities

t()!' citch school to off~r reteaching and reassessment in Algebra 1B this summer. Each middle

lllld higb sclwol ~llso will conta<..t 1hmilies to provide infoimation on additional summer learning

opportunities spt:cificnlly related to Algebra 113. ·

MCPS is committ ed to helping eoch student develop a deep understanding of math~tm1tir..~s. Our

goal is to cnsurt) that the signi l'icant changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

currently und¢r way. ~nhnnco and deepen our students' leaming.

Please contact the middlu or high school at which your son or daughter took AlgC:lbra IB ifyoll

lutvc questions about his or her specific grade or if you arc interested in the reteach and reassess

opportunity t hat w ill be oftercd this summer.

Erick J. Lang, Ph. D.

Dmry[ L. Williams. Ed.D.

t\ssociall.! Supcrinlcmknt

Ofl'icc of C urriculum nnd !nstnu:tional

Associ t~1<: Superintend~:nt

Programs

of

Middle Schools Prof:_rt·ams

Office ofSdwol Supporl ami Improvement

Attachment C

Summary of Unique Issues Surrounding Algebra 18 Semester Exams

Overview

In the process of reviewing the results of Algebra 1B semester exams, Montgomery County Public

Schools (MCPS) staff discovered that a higher than expected number of middle and high schoo l students

received low and fail ing grades on the tests.

This performance is out of line with how students have performed historica lly on this exam and is

significantly different than the performance of these same students on the Algebra 1A semester exam .

(See chart at end of this summary)

Principa ls and teachers have identified loss of instructiona l t ime in the second semester due to the need

for additiona l preparation for the state Algebra/Data Ana lysis High School Assessments (HSA) as a major

reason for the poor MCPS semester exam performance. This is explained further be low.

Grade recalculation

Because students had no control over this loss of instructional time, the semester exams were

recalcu lated, with 15 percentage points be ing added to the results of every test. Since the semester

exam counts 25 percent of a student's fina l semester grade, t he reca lculation resu lted in a higher overa ll

grade for some students.

Report cards for these students had to be reprinted to reflect t he recalculated student exam

performance and any change to the course grade. As a result, all student report cards were held until

this work was fin ished. All report cards were mailed on Friday, June 27, 2014.

As we have said previously, poor exam results genera lly do not lead to course failure for most of our

high school students. At t he high schoo l level, 4,545 students took Algebra and just 288 of them fai led

the course because t hey failed the exam . The reca lculation barely altered this number- reducing it to

275 students.

MCPS w ill offer students additional opportunities to receive targeted instruction and retake the

semester exam during the summer. A letter is being sent to parents of all students who took Algebra 1

during t he 2013-2014 school year explaining t he grade reca lculatio n and t he opportunities to retake the

semester exam . Parents should contact their schools to have t heir student enrolled.

Losing Instructional Time

Every year, many teachers are concerned that they don't have enough time to help students build a

deep understanding of mathematics. The issue was exacerbated for students taking Algebra 1B during

the second semester of the 2013-2014 school year.

This was the first year that students were being taught Algebra 1 using a curriculum aligned to the

Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which the state of Maryland has required all districts to use as

the foundation for math and English language arts instruction. The MCPS semester exam was aligned to

this more rigorous curriculum and some "implementation dip" in performance was expected.

1

Attachment C

However, the state also required these students to take the Maryland Algebra/Data Analysis HSA. The

HSA has not been changed to align with the CCSS, but must be passed in order for students to graduate.

Therefore, additional time had to be taken out of Algebra 1B instruction to provide instruction in areas

that are tested on the HSA, but are no longer part ofthe Algebra 1 class. For instance, many of the data

analysis concepts taught in Algebra 1 previously-and still included on the Algebra 1 HSA-are not

taught in the Common Core-aligned Algebra 1. For midd le school students this was further exacerbated

because they also had to take the Maryland School Assessments in reading and mathematics.

The Algebra/Data Analysis HSA will be replaced by a new Common Core-aligned assessment (PARCC)

next year. In March, the Montgomery County Board of Education sent Maryland State Superintendent

Lillian Lowery a letter raising concerns about the transition from the HSA to the new assessments, and

asked her to consider temporarily removing the high stakes nature of the HSA until the transition was

complete. Read the letter

Addressing Math Performance

Even after the grade reca lculations, the percentage of students fa iling Algebra 1 semester exams,

especially in high schoo l, is too high, as it is on other math semester exams. There are multiple issues

related to this performance that were outlined in the recently released report of the MCPS Mathematics

Semester Exam Work Group.

Superintendent Joshua Starr has introduced a five-point plan aimed at improving student understanding

and performance in mathematics. Learn more about the work group report and Dr. Starr's plan on the

MCPS website .

Algebra Semester Exam Failures June 2013- June 2014

Middle

School

High

School

Total

Algebra 18 June 2013

EnrollFailed

%of

ment

Exam

Enroll.

767

7,560

10%

Algebra 1A January 2014

EnrollFailed

%of

ment

Exam

Enroll.

12%

7,180

893

Algebra lB June 2014

Initial

Enrol lFailed

%of

ment

Exam

Enroll

23%

7,038

1,620

Algebra lB June 2014

Grade Recalculation

EnrollFai led

%of

ment

Exa m

Enro ll.

12%

7,038

862

4,536

3107

68%

4,685

2,877

61%

4,545

3,713

82%

4,545

3,090

68%

12,096

3874

32%

11,865

3,770

32%

11,583

5,333

46%

11,583

3,952

34%

2