UPPER MARLBORO – After three years of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has seen only small gains, alongside small setbacks. Now, the county board of education wants to see new and better strategies to help students meet PARCC standards. “We’re in year three […]
UPPER MARLBORO – After three years of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has seen only small gains, alongside small setbacks.
Now, the county board of education wants to see new and better strategies to help students meet PARCC standards.
“We’re in year three of the PARCC assessment and so as we continue to work through and learn best practices and figure out ways to improve our curriculum and delivery and instruction, each year we feel more confident about the delivery of the content and that we can make improvements,” said Monica Goldson, chief operating officer of PGCPS.
Goldson and her team of PGCPS staff, department heads and specialists led a presentation for the board of education at the Sept. 19 meeting, which was held at 1 p.m. with sparse board attendace as members filed in and out during the meeting.
The PGCPS team went over a variety of changes and strategies they have made to help students become college and career ready while also preparing them to meet the standards in the PARCC. Strategies included literacy and math coaches, observations and reviews of teachers, sharing lesson plans that make an impact and using data from previous years to target specific needs.
The school system said those strategies have shown some results. Overall, nearly 26 percent of third through fifth grade students met or exceeded expectations on the English language arts exam (2.5 percentage points more than the previous year).
“It is encouraging to see our youngest learners, who have been taught to higher standards the longest, showing the most growth,” said Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of the school system. “Our teachers and students continue to become familiar with the rigorous demands of the PARCC assessments as we prepare all students to enter college and the workplace”
At the same time, math scores only increased a half of a percentage point. Results remained largely the same for grades six through eight in language arts exams, but dropped by half a percentage point in math.
Some on the board noted that while PGCPS faces hurdles that other school systems do not, like a large population of English Language Learners, and a much larger population of students in poverty, there must be more done to address the gap in achievement between this county and the rest of Maryland.
Board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston wanted to know specifically what new strategies the school system will employ for the current school year to help boost scores and student comprehension.
Goldson said school administration has implemented curriculum audits to analyze what is and is not working and said PGCPS has already altered some of its programs of study based on feedback from teachers.
“We tweaked some of our curriculum documents,” Goldson said. “It’s just like teaching. You teach, you learn what works best, you make those changes and then come back and do those best practices for next school year.”
Teacher observations and lesson plan sharing are also part of finding the best practices for increasing college and career readiness, as well as test scores. Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed questioned, though, how often the success of one school or one classroom is replicated throughout the school system.
Ahmed pointed to Heather Hills Elementary in Bowie, which she said showed great improvements in scores and asked how that success could be replicated. Goldson replied only by saying that Heather Hills is a gifted and talented school.
Amanya Paige, the student member of the board, also pushed for answers on how best practices are created and wanted to know how much student evaluations and opinions counted toward helping identify what is or is not working in the school system, especially in terms of curriculum.
“I challenge you to use student evaluations and use them for professional development because students sit in the classroom every day and they can give you a realistic observation or evaluation of the actual implementation of the curriculum,” she said
Goldson noted that there is a student feedback portion of teacher evaluations, but it does not have a large impact on the entire evaluation. In addition, Goldson said teachers are observed by their principal multiple times a year, depending on their status. Tenured teachers are only observed once per year, depending on the year, while non-tenured teachers are observed four times.
However, Boardmember Ed Burroughs said he was not fully convinced the plan PGCPS has set out to increase scores and student learning is working. He pointed to a school in his district with lower scores, saying they only had a 1 percent pass rate, and wanted to know how, specifically, those scores would be addressed.
Staff answered that it would depend on the circumstances of the school – the demographics, the leadership in the building, whether or not teachers were on maternity or administrative leave, and more.
“I heard a lot of, ‘we’re going to rewrite the curriculum,’ learning walks, all that – it doesn’t convince me and I don’t understand any more how that number (pass rates) is going to grow,” Burroughs said. “I just don’t understand what is happening from your office to the school house that is actually making a difference.”
Furthermore, Burroughs questioned if there should be a correlation between passing PARCC and moving on to the next grade or level of education. If students are not scoring well on the Algebra I exam, as an example, should they move on to geometry?
Goldson noted that minority students, especially African Americans and English Language Learners, are at a disadvantage and typically do poorer on standardized tests. She gave the example of her own child’s experience with the SAT.
“He was not a great test taker, but he did an amazing job at the community college level and was able to transfer 10 college credits to his university where he is at now and he’s doing great,” she said. “But he was a horrible test taker and when we got his SAT scores, I had to do some serious convincing to him that ‘you can do this,’ because he had made A’s and B’s.”
Moving forward, Goldson and Deputy Superintendent Monique Davis both reiterated that PGCPS will continue to monitor and adjust its strategies to not only improve PARCC scores, but student readiness. And that will take extra effort from every part of PGCPS.
“There is a change of expectations in the testing. So, that’s a change for the students, so the students have to get used to and understand that there is this increase in expectation,” Davis said. “Then there’s a change for the teachers. There’s a teacher change that needs to happen to build the capacity and as we’re doing that we’re also changing our curriculum and our content.”