A Maryland school district’s curriculum and classroom assessments represent what teachers need to help students reach ambitious academic goals and succeed on state tests, concludes a report issued by a group pushing for greater student achievement.
The Montgomery County public schools’ curriculum is “clearly articulated” and “quite comprehensive,” according to the Washington-based Achieve. Moreover, the classroom exams are of “high quality and align to” district and state standards, the report released this month says.
In the past six years, Achieve has conducted similar reviews of 15 states’ standards and tests. The Montgomery County study marks the first time it has pored over district policies designed to ensure students are able to meet state demands.
The 139,000-student district provides a model for other education systems that are trying to satisfy new state testing and accountability demands put on them by federal and state laws, a top Achieve official said last week.
“Montgomery County is an illustration of how a partnership [between state and local officials] could work,” said Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president for the nonprofit group led by governors and business leaders.
In the division of labor, as envisioned by Achieve, the state sets broad learning goals and offers a test to judge how well students are meeting them. The district then builds a curriculum and produces a series of classroom tests to ensure that students are taking incremental steps toward achieving the state goals.
The review of Montgomery County’s resources “pointed out how important this kind of exercise is going to be across the country,” Mr. Gandal said.
For Montgomery County, the review by national experts helps administrators identify parts of the instructional program that need beefing up and gives them confidence to help other Maryland districts meet the demands of the new state testing system.
“It was important for us to have an independent set of eyes to give us feedback,” said Brian J. Porter, a spokesman for the suburban Washington district.
District officials commissioned the $195,000 Achieve study to get a sense of whether the school system was headed in the right direction in its 2-year-old effort to overhaul its instructional program, Mr. Porter said.
Achieve reviewed reading and mathematics curricula for K-12 classes as well as countywide tests given in high school English, algebra, and geometry courses.
In its earlier reviews of states’ policies, Achieve said many curriculum frameworks lacked specificity. Montgomery County’s curriculum, by contrast, is “explicit about the knowledge and skills students should learn in each grade,” the Achieve report says.
Likewise, the high school exams are so closely aligned with state expectations that they give students a sense of how they will perform on state exams, it adds.
Yet while Achieve calls the curriculum “rigorous and reasonable,” the report says it still falls short of what’s expected in other countries whose students achieve at the highest levels on international studies.
For example, the report says, the district should consider moving many portions of Algebra 1 down to the 8th grade, which is when students in many high-achieving countries learn algebra.
The district currently has about half its 8th graders completing Algebra 1, Mr. Porter said.
Montgomery County includes some of the country’s wealthiest suburban areas, but also has growing poor and immigrant communities. “The question is: How will districts that don’t have the resources or expertise handle this?” Mr. Gandal said. “I don’t think states can do it all themselves; neither can all the districts. But the answer can’t be, ‘We won’t do it.’”