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MCPS Performs Well on State's New 'School Progress Index'

December 17, 2012
Superintendent expresses concern over new measure

The Maryland State Department of Education released its School Progress Index (SPI) for all Maryland public schools today and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), overall, fared well on this new accountability measure. A majority of MCPS schools were in the highest levels of performance on the SPI.

The SPI is a component of Maryland’s new accountability system that was established when the state received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. The SPI uses a formula, based mostly on state test scores, to determine how schools are progressing toward academic targets.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said the SPI is an improvement over the previous accountability formula under NCLB, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). But he expressed concern about the index’s reliance on standardized test scores, as well as the designation of “strands” for schools.

“The School Progress Index has the same weaknesses as many previous accountability schemes—it relies too much on standardized tests to place inaccurate labels on schools,” Dr. Starr said. “I appreciate what the Maryland State Department of Education is attempting to do; however, what’s not clear to me is the purpose of this approach to accountability. Additionally, labeling schools with a strand or a grade has not been shown to be an effective mechanism for school improvement in other places where it is used.”

“However, we will take a close look at this data and comply with the requirements of the state’s new accountability system,” he said. “The data, itself, is instructive and reinforces the need to re-energize our efforts to narrow achievement gaps across the district. I’m just concerned about how the data is being used.”

Dr. Starr has called for a three-year moratorium on statewide testing while school districts implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and English language arts, and while assessments aligned to the CCSS are put in place. By 2015, Maryland is expected to replace the Maryland School Assessments (MSA) in math and English language arts with new tests being developed by a consortium of more than 20 states—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The new assessments will include performance tasks and multi-step problems and, most likely, will be administered online, a significant change from the current set of assessments.

“There is so much change taking place in public education right now, our school districts need to catch their collective breath and focus on implementing the Common Core and preparing students for these new, very different assessments, and a new, very different workplace,” Dr. Starr said.

In elementary and middle schools, the SPI formula includes three indicators:


- Achievement: Based on the results of all students on the MSA in mathematics, English language arts, and science. Accounts for 30 percent of the formula.
- Student growth: Indicates whether student scores improved on the MSA in mathematics and English language arts. Accounts for 30 percent of the formula.
- Gap reduction: Measures if the gap in MSA performance between a school’s highest-scoring subgroup and its lowest-scoring subgroup narrowed. Accounts for 40 percent of the formula.

In high school, the SPI formula also includes three indicators:


- Achievement: Based on the results of all students on the HSA in Algebra, English 10 and Biology.  Accounts for 40 percent of the formula.
- Gap reduction: Measures if the gap between a school’s highest-scoring subgroup and its lowest-scoring subgroup narrowed on the HSA in Algebra, English 10 and Biology, as well as graduation and dropout rates. Accounts for 40 percent of the formula.
- College and Career Readiness: A new measure that includes the school’s five-year graduation rate and indicators of college readiness, including success in rigorous classes (Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate); career and technology education; and college enrollment. Accounts for 20 percent of the formula.

Each SPI indicator is expressed as a ratio of the percentage of students meeting each indicator divided by each school’s academic goal—called the Annual Measureable Objective—as assigned by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).  Thus, schools and districts with an SPI of 1.0 or higher have met the performance targets of the accountability system. As a district, the SPI for MCPS is 1.014.

Based on its SPI and the number of indicators in which the targets are met, each school is put into one of five strands with increasing levels of monitoring and support by the school district and the state. According to the data released today, 64 percent of MCPS schools are in the first two strands, which require the least amount of monitoring and support. Only eight MCPS schools—two elementary, four middle and two special schools—are in strand five, which requires the highest level of monitoring. 

To view the SPI for schools in MCPS, visit
the Maryland report card website.

For more information on the SPI, view resources on the
Maryland State Department of Education website, including Frequently Asked Questions and highlights of the SPI.

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