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