A new report says that Montgomery County schools are becoming segregated by income, race, and ethnicity and that “white flight” is occurring in the system’s lowest-performing schools. But officials deny that it’s even happening.
This week, the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight released their findings on the achievement gap in Montgomery County Pubic Schools. Researchers note that low-income, black, and Latino students are still trailing their more affluent, white, and Asian peers, but even more so now that both groups are increasingly concentrated in different parts of the school system.
While MCPS as a whole is a majority-minority school system and has been for over a decade, most low-income, black, and Latino students attend one of 11 high schools, mostly in Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Gaithersburg. Meanwhile, higher-income students, as well as 80% of the school system’s white students and 67% of its Asian students, now cluster at schools on the western side of the county.
Students in Montgomery County Public Schools made some gains on the Advanced Placement exams last year, which allow students to earn college credit. But in East County and Downcounty schools, test participation and scores have fallen, in some cases dramatically.
Last week, the College Board released its Advanced Placement test scores for 2013. In a memo to the Board of Education, Superintendent Joshua Starr said that the Class of 2013 “continued to maintain the high rates of participation and performance” on AP exams and claimed that “MCPS high schools continued to support AP exam participation and performance of minority graduates,” noting that many schools saw increased numbers of black and Hispanic students taking the exams.
But the actual data isn’t as encouraging. Across MCPS, 66% of the class of 2013 took AP exams, a small decrease from the previous year, when 67.3% of graduates took the exams. Meanwhile, the percentage of black and Hispanic students taking AP exams fell. 39.6% of black students and 51.6% of Hispanic students sat for the exams in 2013, compared to 43% and 54.2%, respectively.
AP participation rates decreased at all three Northeast Consortium high schools, Blake, Paint Branch, and Springbrook, and four out of the five Downcounty Consortium high schools, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood, and Wheaton. At Einstein, the percentage of students taking AP exams fell from 61.2% to 50%, a difference of 11 points. At Wheaton, it fell from 66.7% to 58.9%, a difference of 9 points. 57.8% of graduates took the exams at Blair High School, an increase of one point from the previous year.
Students at consortia schools also aren’t performing as well. The percentage of students scoring 3 or more on AP exams fell at every Northeast and Downcounty consortia high school except for Blair. (AP exams are graded on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest score.) At Springbrook, it fell 7 points, from 28.7% in 2012 to 21.7% in 2012.
Participation among black and Hispanic students has fallen as well. The percentage of black students sitting for the AP exam fell from 50.7% to 32.9% at Einstein, a difference of 18 points. At Northwood, it fell 12 points from 52.4% to 40.2%, and at Paint Branch, it fell from 49.5% to 40.7%. Meanwhile, the rate increased 4 points at Springbrook, from 33.7% to 37.3%, and 1 point at Blake, from 35.4% to 36.6%. And the percentage of Hispanic students taking the exams fell 10 points at Springbrook, 8 points at Blake, Einstein, and Wheaton, and 7 points at Kennedy.
White students are also taking fewer AP exams across the consortia. The percentage fell 13 points at Wheaton, 9 points at Northwood, 8 points at Kennedy, and 3 points at Blake. But the rate of white students sitting for AP exams did increase 17 points at Paint Branch.
Meanwhile, schools on the western side of the county are doing better than ever. Black and Hispanic students took more tests, and received more high scores, at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Poolesville high schools.
Later this month, the College Board will release data for the state of Maryland and the nation as a whole, allowing us to see how our students compete on a state and national level. AP scores are just one measurement of student performance, and not always the best one. But they do indicate a growing achievement gap within Montgomery County Public Schools, which is not only hurting our students, but our communities as well.