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The AP performance of the 2013 graduates of Montgomery County Public Schools

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On February 12, 2014, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the largest school system in the State of Maryland, issued a news bulletin claiming “More than half of the graduates from the MCPS Class of 2013 earned a college-ready score on at least one AP exam, far outperforming their peers across the state and the nation. MCPS students continue to maintain high rates of participation and performance on the AP exam, according to a national report released February 11.”

On the previous day, the Washington Post trumpeted the fact that “nearly 30 percent of Maryland’s seniors earned a college-ready score of 3 or better on the tests.”

However, a memorandum issued by MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr paints a far more interesting picture of AP performance within Maryland’s largest school system than the news release or the Post column.

The memo notes that from 2011 to 2013, the AP participation of whites and Asians increased slightly. In contrast, black or African-American graduates showed the largest decrease of nearly five percentage points.

In 2013, nearly 86% of Asian graduates and almost 81% of white graduates took one or more AP exams. However, only about 40% of blacks and 52% of Hispanic graduates took one or more AP courses.

Nestled towards the back of the memorandum are the more startling statistics. For example, according to Table B1, in 2013 just 17.9% of black males attained what MCPS calls a “College Readiness Score.” In contrast, nearly 70% of white and Asian graduates met that benchmark. Students classified as enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) performed better than black males, with 26.5% meeting the MCPS benchmark.

At Montgomery Blair High School, the largest high school in Montgomery County, only 50.7% met the college readiness benchmark. On the other hand, at Whitman High School 83.5% met the benchmark with Poolesville boasting 72%, Churchill 83.5%, and Walter Johnson 69%. Overall, just 52.9% of MCPS graduates met the benchmark.

At Blair, just 19.8% of blacks met the benchmark in 2013, even though 84.2% of whites and 73.7% of Asians did so. Additionally, 31.1% of Hispanics met the cutoff.

Across the county, at Churchill, the statistics are 25% of blacks, 90.7% of Asians, 84.2% of Hispanics, and 84% of whites. At Whitman 55.2% of blacks, 83.3% of Asians, 75.0% of Hispanics, and 87.3% of whites met the benchmark.

At Blair, which houses a prestigious math, science and computer science magnet program and a selective communication arts program (CAP), the percentage meeting the readiness benchmark was 54.9% in 2011, with the number dropping to 49.6% in 2012, and 50.7% in 2013. In 2013, of the 167 black graduates 53 took one or more AP courses. Of the 118 Asians 96 took one or more AP courses. The school underwent a change in leadership in 2011, with the departure of Darryl Williams and Renay C. Johnson taking over as principal in July 2011.

Overall, the report seems to indicate that schools in the wealthier regions of the county performed better. AP and IB performance seems to follow a pattern similar to gifted and talented identification in MCPS. Based on the publicly available data, it is hard to conclude that an MCPS education improves a student’s academic performance.

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