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Why Are Montgomery County Students Flunking Math Exams?

Data from 2009 reveals that students have long struggled with final exams in MCPS math courses.

Few Montgomery County Public Schools students enrolled in high school math courses made high marks on final exams last semester, data released by the school district last week showed. 

In one class, Bridge to Algebra 2, less than 1 percent made an "A" on the final exam.

(See data, above, that details the distribution of final exam grades "A" through "E" for eight math courses last semester.) 

School officials were prompted to release student math grades after members of the county school board grilled Superintendent Joshua Starr about last semester's final exam grades. Media outlets reported earlier this month that the majority of students in high school math—Algebra, Algebra 2, Geometry and Precalculus—failed their final exams. 

Starr told the board final exams are just one part of the story for math students, a point that he reiterated in a statement Friday:

"The final exam data does not tell the whole story of how our students are performing in mathematics. For instance, while 39 percent of our high school students earned a passing grade (A, B, C, or D) on the Algebra 1 final exam in January 2013, 81 percent earned a passing grade in the class for the first semester. So failure on the final exam does not mean failure in the class. Also, student performance on the mathematics portion of the SAT has improved the past five years, rising from 549 (out of 800) in 2008 to 561 in 2012."

Students, teachers and parents who were interviewed by The Washington Post attributed the poor grades to a range of potential causes, including very saavy students who may be choosing how they spend their study time. From The Post: 

"Sergio Bolanos, 14, a ninth-grader at Northwood High School, decided to hit the books for his January geometry exam but strategically opted not to go all-out. He was aiming for a C. 'I had an A first quarter and an A second quarter, so on the final exam, it didn’t really matter what I got,' Sergio said. The result: He failed."

Starr told the board he's revving up two work groups to study the math final exam data and make suggestions. In his statement Friday, Starr also said the continued rollout of new math curriculum will give teachers more tools to delve deeper into math concepts.

Find detailed information from MCPS about math scores, including final exam and course grades, attached to this article.

What do you think? Are math skills a well-hidden deficiency among MCPS students? Do other metrics, such as SAT scores, prove that MCPS students have the math skills they need?

michael bucci May 22, 2013 at 12:29 PM
The students taking the math final usually have just finished taking the high stress HSA that they must pass to graduate. After that, the exam only a few days later seems superfluous.
Barbara May 22, 2013 at 08:08 PM
Why they need Math? As long as they reside in Montgomery County they'll get everything for free. It is a free state, right?
Janey May 23, 2013 at 12:54 PM
There is just not enough practice of the concepts. This whole push to not give the poor kiddies too much homework is making them stupider and lazier.
AMSV May 23, 2013 at 07:50 PM
It makes me wonder if there is a problem with how the exams are written. If a large number of students fail, it is reasonable to consider that the test itself may be a problem. If a student gets an A all year and flunks the exam, was the teacher too easy all year or was the exam too hard or confusing? I have never liked standardized tests. They don't tell the big picture. And, frankly, I think the kids are getting burned out on all these high-stress, lengthy, standard tests.
Sick of Bethesda's BS June 30, 2013 at 09:35 AM
Drugs.

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