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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PGCPS Responds to Concerns About Lead in Water

Earlier this month, Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools published a blog post about lead in the water in the county schools. Here is the response from the Office of Communications of Prince George’s County Public Schools:

Thanks for your post about the safety of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) students and staff.

Over the past 13 years, PGCPS has taken numerous steps to ensure the safety of drinking water in our buildings. Since 2004, PGCPS has implemented a methodical approach to water quality with drinking sources as our priority. We will soon launch the final phase of our four-pronged program. Prior actions have included sampling and testing all water sources; flushing, replacing or valving off fixtures; and providing bottled water when drinking water sources could not be cleared expeditiously. Our actions to date comply with EPA requirements.

The final phase of our water quality program will allow for retesting of all drinking sources currently in use and the installation of filtered water fountains throughout the system. You can find more information, including a timeline of steps taken to date, on the PGCPS website. We appreciate the community advocacy on this topic and the support from our government partners to complete this work.

Today, PGCPS issued a news release with further information about efforts to address water safety concerns.

PGCPS Home Schooling Office Helps Families Transition to Learning at Home

by Alana Cole-Faber

Last month, my family made the big, scary transition to home schooling. For years, I was one of those parents who proclaimed loudly and repeatedly, “I could never, ever home school my children! People who do that must be crazy!” However, after a less-than-ideal public school experience, we were having a hard time getting our children to maintain a positive attitude about learning. I felt like we needed to hit the reset button, so I took a deep breath — okay, several deep breaths — and filled out the application to home school.

IMG_4875Parents wishing to home school in Prince George’s County essentially have two options: 1) join an umbrella group that will oversee your home s
chool or 2) create your own curriculum and submit a portfolio to PGCPS for review. I decided I wanted to be on my own rather than join an umbrella group. Research told me this would mean participating in two PGCPS portfolio reviews each year. Ack! Scary! I read horror stories online about other parents in Maryland who had terrible experiences with their portfolio reviews. These stories had me convinced that at portfolio review time, I would have to sit across a table from some judgmental person in a suit yelling at me that I was a terrible teacher and a complete failure as a parent! (Note to self: Don’t read the Internet. The Internet is terrifying.) I was so intimidated that I very nearly gave up. There was no way I could do this!

Just when I was beginning to lose my nerve, I attended a PGCPS workshop for parents who are new to home schooling. It was led by the PGCPS Home Schooling Office, which is responsible for providing support and ensuring that parents are complying with Maryland state law. The workshop was fantastic. They reviewed what the law requires, discussed what is entailed in a portfolio review, and even shared some sample portfolios. They came across as very knowledgeable and experienced. Most importantly, they were kind and helpful. It was not scary at all! For me, the greatest value came in the reassurances from PGCPS staff that their goal was to support parents, not judge them. As long as I was covering the required subjects* on a regular basis, I could teach whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and no one was going to yell at me. If I wanted to plan a physical education lesson on how to juggle live mice, I could do that. I would just have to document it for the portfolio.

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Destination Imagination Program Brings Rewards and Challenges

by Jane McDougal IMG_2650

Destination Imagination (DI) is an international competition for students of all ages that promotes independence, leadership, creativity, critical thinking and teamwork. Teams compete at regional tournaments, and qualifying teams move on to States and Globals.

My husband has enjoyed managing our oldest son’s DI team for four years at the TAG elementary school. This year I took on the challenge of managing a team for our middle child, a third grader at the neighborhood school. His school did not have a DI program in place, so I reached out to our new principal and the regional DI coordinator for help in getting a team started. This year, we started small with a team of five: four boys and one girl. As a mom of three boys, I felt I could handle it.

Destination Imagination is completely led by the students on the team. Teams choose one of seven challenges (Fine Arts, Engineering, Scientific, Improv, Service/learning, Technical, and Early Learning) and present their solution at a regional tournament in February, March, or April. The team also chooses their team name and decides how they will divide the work and solve the challenge.

My team chose the Fine Arts Challenge: Vanished! They were tasked with presenting a story about the disappearance of a color and how it affected a world. Additionally, they had to create a colorful character that was either involved in or affected by the disappearance of the color. And finally, they had to use a theatrical method to create a vanishing act. This was to be an eight-minute presentation. It’s a tall order for two third graders, two fourth graders, and one fifth grader.

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What I Learned About Lead in the Water in Prince George’s County Schools

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The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the positions of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
Update: See PGCPS’s response to this post here.

by Theodora Scarato

After the story of the Flint Michigan water crisis unfolded in the media last year, I read a news story reporting that lead had been found in the water at Ardmore Elementary School and that water fountains and sinks had been turned off. I became curious. Was the drinking water in our county schools safe?

So in January of 2016 I decided to write to PGCPS CEO Dr. Maxwell and began a long inquiry asking what tests had been done in Prince George’s County Schools to measure for lead. Here is what I learned:

The school system performed water tests from 2009 to 2012 and found that at least 88 schools exceeded EPA allowable lead levels. (Read the list of “Prince George’s County Public Schools Fixtures that are Valved Off” which was sent to me from PGCPS). The majority of  schools with lead contamination are elementary schools.

As of December 2016, the school system had not done anything to remediate this other than simply to turn off faucets in the majority of these schools.

At first, PGCPS told me that they were fixing the lead problem. I was sent a document titled “PGCPS Lead in Water Program” that explained a four-phase plan to fix the lead problem. This document said that a Request for Proposals (RFP) had been submitted “to remediate the remaining classroom water fountains and sinks throughout the system.” This was “Phase Four” of the plan.

You can imagine my surprise to learn that in fact the information PGCPS had sent me was not accurate. When I asked PGCPS to share the details of the “Phase Four” plan, they responded on October 7, 2016 with an email saying that they had made a mistake.

According to this October email, the “RFP issued in 2012 was published but not awarded to an acceptable vendor. Staff prepared to re-issue the RFP again in 2014, but the funding had to be re-allocated for remediation efforts at Ardmore Elementary School and other priority projects in the Building Services Department.”  

If I correctly understand the information I have been given, little has been done to remediate elevated levels of lead found in testing done over the last decade. Despite remediation work at Ardmore Elementary — which did result in reducing but not eliminating lead levels — the water fountains are off. To my knowledge, nothing has been done in other schools other than simply turning off faucets and drinking fountains.

After a year-long email exchange with PGCPS, I recieved water tests reports for the years 2009 through 2016. I repeatedly wrote to PGCPS asking about how they were fixing the problem and ensuring safe drinking water for all students. I have since received a letter providing each school’s name and listing each fountain and faucet which was turned off. Read it here.

According to this December 2016 letter from PGCPS, parents were not notified about elevated levels of lead during any of the years from 2004 to 2016 by the Environmental Office, and it was unknown whether notification was received from the Communications Office. Only at Ardmore, where parents advocated for safe water, was any remediation done, as far as I am aware.

Despite this, the Lead in Water Document sent to me by PGCPS in September states that, “Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to aggressively address lead in drinking water. PGCPS is confident that all schools have water sources that are free of lead.” I do not believe such statements to be accurate.

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Notes on the Feb 21 Prince George’s County Council Town Hall Meeting

by Laura Rammelsberg

Informal notes on the Prince George’s County Council Town Hall Meeting that was held on February 21, 2017.

This is the first meeting in a series of meetings discussing the FY2018 Budget and the fiscal future of Prince George’s County. There will be more public hearings in the coming months.

Council Members in Attendance: Mary Lehman (District 1), Deni Taveras (District 2), Dannielle Glaros (District 3), Andrea Harrison (District 5), Mel Franklin (District 8), Obie Patterson (District 9)

Resources and materials:

Highlights of the Meeting:

The county has not recovered from the recession yet. Structural deficit will grow over the next six years.

Projected annual budget gap is $28 million to $229 million between FY2018 and FY2023, even after accounting for MGM Revenues.

There are three unique constraints on the county, which no other Maryland county has in this combination. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Addressing the Structural Deficit recommends the following:

  1. Repeal TRIM (Property Tax Cap)
  2. Repeal Question I, which prohibits levying new taxes without a public referendum.
  3. Maximize use of Homestead Tax Credit Cap (this cap is most restrictive in the State of Maryland). The County is losing $56-60 Million a year from the Homestead Tax Credit every year.

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Updated: ‘Hidden Figures’ Field Trip Is Back On After Parents Write Letter

hidden-figures4

The following letter was sent to Dr. Judith White, in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction of Prince George’s County Public Schools, in response to a decision not to approve a field trip to see the film Hidden Figures.

UPDATE: After additional research by the Department of Curriculum and Research, Dr. White has approved this film for PGCPS students in grades 4-12.

Dear Dr. White,

We are parents of fourth graders at Greenbelt Elementary School. We were dismayed to learn that our children’s field trip to see the movie Hidden Figures was canceled because your office has deemed the movie inappropriate for fourth grade students, and we urge you to reconsider.

We are sure you’re aware that the movie features the true story of African-American women who worked on the first moon landing. You may not be aware that the movie has been a very popular choice for teachers in upper elementary grades who want to inform and inspire their students. Schools around the country, including some in St. Louis, MO, Seattle, WA, and Nashville, TN have arranged showings of the movie for their fourth graders. There is a great variety of background information and sample lesson plans available to teachers who wish to make the outing more than just a trip to the movies. The parent-run media information site Common Sense Media, which we have found to be fair and also quite conservative in their age recommendations, suggests the movie is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

The Greenbelt Elementary School field trip was nearly ideal. Students would be able to walk from their school to an historic theater in town, encouraging healthful habits in addition to the inspiring content of the film. Women engineers from NASA were going to be on hand to answer student’s questions after the movie. Parents who object to the film have the option, as they have with every field trip, to refuse to give permission for their child to participate. Given the County’s push for students who are college and career ready, especially in STEM fields, we hope you will reconsider your decision and allow the field trip to go on as planned.

Sincerely,

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