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Literacy Reforms Make a Difference in Second Grade

May 30, 2003
The first class of students to receive the benefits of three years of major reforms in early elementary school education in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has reached Grade 2 this year, and achievement is up.

Those children most at risk of academic failure are performing at or above the national median in key subjects on the TerraNova Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, with some scores among the highest performing students in the nation. The test was taken this past March by more than 10,000 students, the largest class of second graders in the school system's history.

Three studies by the Office of Shared Accountability detail consistent and, in some cases, extraordinary gains by African American students, Hispanic students, poor students, special education students, and those learning English as a second language.

The studies also show a strong relationship between foundational reading skills when entering kindergarten, continuous enrollment in the same school, and reaching the national average in second grade. The link to continuous enrollment in the same school was most obvious among at-risk students who had full-day kindergarten, stayed in the same school, and scored nearly on par, at least in mathematics computations, with students in less at-risk communities.

This year's second graders entered kindergarten in the 2000-2001 school year amid a flurry of reforms. The improvements introduced a completely revised kindergarten curriculum, a strong emphasis on reading and mathematics, professional teacher development, and diagnostic assessments systemwide, plus both sharply reduced class sizes (15:1 in kindergarten and 17:1 in first and second grades) and an instructionally based full-day kindergarten in 17 of the most highly impacted schools.

Since 2000-2001, full-day kindergarten and related class size changes have been expanded to 56 schools, just about half of the county's 123 elementary schools, along with improved assessments, diagnostic tools, and a new report card for kindergarten, among other improvements.

“The reforms appear to have had a significant effect, especially for the initial target group of the 17 most highly impacted schools,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report this week to the Board of Education.

As a group, the 17 highly impacted schools scored at and above the 50th national median percentile in three of the five subject areas. In fact, nearly all of the 17 schools scored at or above the national median (50th percentile) in mathematics computation, reaching the 76th percentile in this subject as a group.

Their much improved performance in mathematics computation helped propel the school system's overall results in that subject to the 83rd percentile, the highest ever, and the first time any result on the CTBS in Montgomery County has surpassed the 80th percentile. All other subjects maintained the previous year's systemwide marks, ranging from the 64th to the 77th percentile, for the third consecutive year.

“This is an important accomplishment given that the demographic make-up of this year's second grade students tested continued to grow in size and reflected the substantial growth of academically at-risk students, including a 32-percent increase in English language learners tested in Grade 2 since last year alone,” said Dr. Weast.

"The new national test results underscore the remarkable work by elementary school teachers and principals, and other school-based and central office staff who have focused on significant instructional reform initiatives over the past three years,” he said.

“I am particularly impressed that student achievement has remained consistently high, with areas of marked improvement, when schools are gaining new students every day and experiencing greater demographic complexity than at any time in our history,” Dr. Weast said.

Details of the CTBS results and the three studies are available at the link below.

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