College Park Academy: A Look at the Data

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

A lively discussion at the April 25 Board of Education meeting focused on College Park Academy, a public charter middle and high school in Prince George’s County that benefits from a partnership with the University of Maryland. The argument centered around a proposal that the school reserve 35% of its seats for students living in a “catchment area,” a geographic area that includes neighborhoods close to the university. (Watch video of the entire discussion here.)

College Park Academy was praised for its comparative success on standardized tests — and rightly so. “As many of you already know, we have scored exceptionally high on state assessments,” said Executive Director Bernadette Ortiz-Brewster, “consistently for four years with our blended learning model.” Interim Principal Steve Baker gave details on the school’s impressive standardized test performance (watch the video here).

But no discussion of the school’s success is complete without comparing the population served by College Park Academy with that of the school district at large. In short, the public schools in Prince George’s County tend to serve a higher percentage of kids who have risk factors that may increase the probability of academic underperformance.

The table below shows the percentages of students at College Park Academy needing various special services, as reported by the Maryland Report Card, compared with the percentages of all PGCPS middle school1 students needing special services.

CPA_table

Data from the 2016 Maryland Report Card. “* *” indicates no students or fewer than 10 students in category, or “* *” indicates the percentage for the category is either ≤5 or ≥95 and the corresponding counts have been suppressed.

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SAT Scores Continue Decline, ACT Scores Increase

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

According to the Maryland Report Card, the 2016 mean composite SAT score for Prince George’s County high schools is ten points lower than it was in 2015, representing the eighth straight year of decline. Since 2008 — the earliest year for which data is available — the mean composite score has dropped by nearly 100 points, from 1282 to 1185. The composite score includes a math, critical reading, and writing component*; the maximum score is 2400. The school system’s mean math subscore was 392 in 2016, compared with 397 the previous year. The mean 2016 critical reading and writing subscores were 403 and 390 respectively, compared with 405 and 393 in 2015.

One possible explanation for the decline is that the number of test takers was slightly higher compared with the year before (6,669 vs. 6,630 in 2015), though the cohort of seniors appears to be smaller, based on Maryland Report Card data.

While SAT scores have been declining since 2008, ACT scores in the county have been inching up. The mean composite score in 2016 was 19, compared with 18 in 2015, and 17, in 2008. (The maximum ACT score is 36.) While the number of PGCPS students taking the ACT has increased significantly (1,183 in 2016 compared with 871 in 2008), it is still much smaller than the number of students taking the SAT. It is interesting to note that an ACT score of 19 puts a test taker at about the 44th percentile, compared with students nationwide, making PGCPS’s ACT performance look respectable, if not impressive. (Looking at PGCPS’s SAT scores in the context of national benchmarks and percentile ranks presents a much bleaker picture.)

The table below shows the average reading, math, and writing subscores and the average composite SAT scores for 2016 college bound seniors in each of the county’s public high schools, as well as the average scores for PGCPS and the state of Maryland. Next to each score, the change from the previous year, 2015, is displayed in either red or green. (For example, at the Academy of Health Sciences, the average reading SAT score was 542 in 2016, eight points higher than it was in 2015.)

SAT_table

Mean SAT scores for college-bound seniors, as reported by the MSDE on the 2016 Maryland Report Card; changes (+/-) from 2015.

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Update on Administrative Leave Situation in Prince George’s County Schools

An earlier post documented the large number of staff on administrative leave in the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

by Justine C. 

IMG_6404Since I wrote about this issue on March 1, 2017, there has been increased reporting in the local media on the problem. School board members Edward Burroughs (Distrct 8), David Murray (District 1), Raaheela Ahmed (District 5), and Juwan Blocker (Student Member) have created a petition in April to review and revamp the administrative leave policy. Their stated goals are to host listening sessions and create recommendations for improvements to the current policies and procedures.

In addition, this month, PGCPS’s Office of Monitoring, Accountability and Compliance will be providing any recommendations they have for changes to policies and procedures regarding student safety. (See minutes from March 7 Policy, Legal, and Legislative Committee Meeting.) The office was created on July 1, 2016, to oversee the development and implementation of procedures and protocols related to student safety.

In response to a Public Information Act request, PGCPS reports that as of May 2, 2017, there are 153 teachers — compared with 160 on January 31 — and 248 additional staff on administrative leave for a total of 401 personnel, indicating either a decline in the number of reports or faster investigations.

PGCPS also indicated in their response to my Public Information Act request that they implemented a tracking system in early April that includes the disposition of cases, referring to whether or not a staff person was reprimanded, terminated, or some other course of action was taken. However, they do not track the amount of time a case takes to investigate and how long teachers are out of the classroom on administrative leave.

Response to the Public Information Act request is embedded below.

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A Closer Look at 7th Grade Math PARCC Scores

by Lori Morrow

Over the next two months, PGCPS will administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test for the third year. For more about PARCC visit the PGCPS website at http://www1.pgcps.org/parcc/.

In late September 2016, PGCPS announced that students had made gains on the PARCC test at most grade levels. However, there was an exception for seventh grade, my child’s grade. According to a PGCPS press release, “Overall, the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations was higher this year, with the exception of the seventh-grade math test, whose testing pool excluded higher-performing students enrolled in eighth-grade math or Algebra I.”

I had initially missed the note about this “exception” but began to look closer at PARCC scores on the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Maryland Report Card after receiving my son’s individual score sheet in October. I was surprised to see so few Level 4 or Level 5 scores for the Math 7 test; those blocks were labeled only with an asterisk, indicating less than 5%. Why had this cohort—students who took the MSA in fifth grade and started with PARCC in sixth grade—fallen behind?

In an email response, PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell said that the apparent drop for the Math 7 scores was due to a change in the testing pool. He explained that in the spring of 2015, seventh-grade students, regardless of their math class, took the PARCC score aligned with their grade, Math 7. However, in 2016, PGCPS chose to have seventh-grade students enrolled in Honors Math/Accelerated 2 take the Math 8 PARCC exam, since the accelerated course curriculum was designed to cover Math 7 and 8. This is a question that I never thought to ask when I attended PARCC nights in the spring, but it made a difference in the score results.

On the MSDE website, it is not intuitive that some students are tested at a level other than their assigned grade before high school. Results are broken down by test level and demographics but not by student’s grade. Furthermore, my follow-up questions to PGCPS about the results of seventh graders alone were met with the answer that the information was not publicly available. I knew that my child’s score level had dropped from taking the Math 6 PARCC test in sixth grade to taking the Math 8 PARCC in seventh grade, but I wanted to know how the rest of the seventh graders in Honors/Accelerated 2 fared on the Math 8 exam. After filing a Maryland Public Information Act request, I received the results.

pgcps parcc2016 with mpia

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Charter Schools, Specialty Programs, and the Issue of Equitable Access

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The lively discussion about equitable access to College Park Academy that took place during last month’s Board of Education meeting (beginning at 1:51:27 in the video) is must-watch TV—and not just for the moment when Board Chair Segun Eubanks told Edward Burroughs to “shut up and let the parliamentarian answer the question (at 1:54:50).”

Board Member Edward Burroughs (District 8) proposed amending the resolution granting a one-year extension to College Park Academy, a public charter school for students in grades six through nine which offers blended learning in partnership with the University of Maryland. Referring to the University of Maryland’s request that some slots be allotted to the children of University employees and to residents of College Park, Burroughs emphasized that all students, including “our most disadvantaged students,” should have access to the charter school, “not the select few, not those that come from the elite class in the county or in College Park.”

Burroughs’s amendment—which was adopted after a vote by the Board—adds the clause, “whereas the Board of Education wants to ensure equity and access for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status or zip code,” to the language of the resolution.

Contributing to the conversation surrounding equitable access, Board Member Jeana Jacobs (District 5) raised the question of whether children with special needs were being well-served at the school: “You do a review of our special needs population that’s there. There is some suggestion that they’re encouraged to home school or go to their neighborhood school.” (For Jacobs’s remarks, go to 2:06:20 in the video.)

What do the numbers say? Are “our most disadvantaged students” well-represented at College Park Academy? Data from the 2015 Maryland Report Card suggest that College Park Academy serves disproportionately few students needing special services, particularly when compared with the six closest neighboring middle schools (see map of area school locations here).

The table below shows the percentages of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs), who have limited English proficiency (LEP), and who receive special education services, respectively, at the seven schools listed.

SmallChartv2

Percentages of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Meals, with Limited English Proficiency, receiving special education. An asterisk (*)  is used to indicate fewer than ten students in a category1. Source: 2015 Maryland Report Card, “Students Receiving Special Services”

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Parent Calls for Improvement Plan Instead of $120k Survey

Lori Morrow presented a version of this testimony during the public comment portion of the May 12th Board of Education Meeting. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Lori Morrow

A few weeks ago, I watched the April 28th Board of Education meeting at home and
was surprised to hear about a $120,000 survey to determine community
perceptions of PGCPS. I agree with comments made by some board members that
night: We already know many of the negative perceptions that persist from existing surveys.

IMG_0510A few months ago, I noticed each of the school pages on the PGCPS website includes a link to the 2013 School Climate Survey, as well as a note indicating the next biannual survey would be published in Fall 2015. I recall getting an email to fill out the survey last June, and know that my son participated in a survey this school year.

I’ve been attempting to get a copy of this climate survey report and, after more than two months and many emails, I was finally able to access a copy of the report this very morning from a helpful staff member in the Research and Evaluation Department. I was particularly interested in the report for my son’s middle school because of comments I regularly hear from him. While a quick comparison with the 2013 report does show some improvement for the school, a number of areas are rather disappointing.

For example:

  •  31% of Parents disagree with the statement that they are proud to send their
    child to this school
  • 31% of Parents do not believe that teachers will provide students individual
    attention if needed.
  • 44% of Students disagree with the statement that they feel safe in school.
  • 61% of Students do not believe that students respect the authority of
    teachers at this school.
  • 54% of Students do not feel like they are an important part of their school
    community.

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PGCPS Elementary Foreign Language Offerings

by Katherine McElhenny

IMG_7154Have you ever wondered about the foreign language offerings at your local elementary school? Or how your school compares to others in the district?

No? Neither had I until recently.

Our family was out at a restaurant when we ran into a friend whose daughter had attended nursery school with my daughter. Immediately, the two kindergartners began comparing their schools. Our friend was proud of her brand new uniforms and Chinese classes. My daughter boasted of her Russian classes.

The parents were taken aback.

Chinese? Russian? Who knew? What was offered elsewhere? My curiosity was piqued.

A compilation of the district’s foreign language offerings was nowhere to be found on the PGCPS website.  Instead, the chart below was cobbled together from emails and calls to the World Language Office along with teachers and staff at individual schools.

Is your elementary school one of over one hundred that is not listed?  According to PGCPS, those students do not receive any foreign language instruction.

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