2021 Academic Proficiency Shows Delining Results for 2021

June 1, 2022

The academic proficiency rates for the state of Maryland for the school year ending 2021 were obtained from the Maryland State Department of Education and reviewed by the Transparency in Education Program and they show a decline for most Maryland counties including Frederick County.

A little background:
The state testing is conducted every year (with the exception of 2020 which was not completed due to the pandemic) and is one of several testing/evaluation methods used to understand academic proficiency. In general the state testing is considered a “supplement” to other methods that include a Spring assessment conducted by the FCPS, Curriculum assessments that are done by unit, and individual teacher instructional assessments.

Since the 2021 testing process was conducted while many COVID-related restrictions were still in place we were told by the state and the FCPS that that the 2021 testing process was abbreviated and less comprehensive than prior years. In addition the FCPS expressed “concerns about the validity/reliability” of the state’s 2021 testing. Among the reasons cited by the FCPS was “students and staff alike knew that this Fall assessment did not count for anything” and that students “did not take it seriously,” and that the students took the test in the Fall for the prior year’s lessons months after the end of instruction. Nevertheless, the FCPS officials indicated that there is “evidence of gaps and deficits in learning based on local measures post pandemic.” Those local measures are not yet available for review and at this time we are told they will not be available until “late next FALL.”

That leaves only the state testing at this point and these show a disturbingly low level of proficiency. At an aggregated level the 2021 results for Frederick County are as follows:

In July we will be breaking down the data to show the results by race, students considered economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, by grade and school, and we will breakout the 5 highest achieving schools in the county as well as the 5 with the lowest results. Parents wishing to get more specific information will have an opportunity to send requests to the Transparency in Education program via the primary email address on the website.

What to consider:
Nearly all parents believe that the academic proficiency should be the highest priority and despite the concerns expressed by the FCPS regarding the 2021 test results, there is no argument that the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on proficiency rates that have been on the decline in Frederick County since 2014. Given the information and data that is available the FCPS should also make academic proficiency its highest priority and, in the interest of transparency, should publish their plans for academic improvement in detail with actions, responsibilities, targets, and timelines. In the Consolidated Strategic Plan for FCPS, published in November 2021, academic achievement in Math and ELA is identified as a primary focus and the plan lays out a conceptual framework for improving results.

Based on this expression of the focus on academic achievement we will be asking the FCPS to make status reporting on progress a regular standing agenda item in their public meetings and to provide the targets and dates on a regular basis on the FCPS website. We will also ask the candidates for the BOE to provide their plans, and urge all parents to pursue this with their children’s teachers.

One other thing to consider: throughout this year substantial time has been spent in public meetings discussing Social and Emotional Learning programs (SEL), the new state COMAR Health curriculum standards, anti-racism policies and new programs designed to help mitigate racism, teacher and staff compensation, bullying and discipline, recognition programs, and the budget – all very worthy and important topics – but generally speaking the current balance of time and activity split between academics and non-academic pursuits in both meetings and the classrooms seems to be increasingly weighted towards SEL and the academic results may be suffering as a result. This could be the result of an overworking of the approach documented in FCPS’s Consolidated Strategic Plan which states “FCPS is implementing the Whole Child development approach” which “redefines the notion that a school’s singular focus is academics” and the priorities need to be reset, or it could be that this is the new normal in public education, but either way the publication of a detailed plan for driving academic achievement, with milestones and accountability, and a commitment to make this the primary focus in the classrooms is critically needed from those in charge and those candidates running for the BOE.