Report: gap persists between rich and poor schools in Montgomery Co., Md.

There is a clear achievement gap between the richest and poorest high schools in Montgomery County, but the school system’s efforts to turn things around are not working, according to a new report.

The report, conducted by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight, finds that public high schools in Montgomery County are becoming more divided by race and income, with a widening gap in grades and SAT scores between the 11 high schools considered to be “high poverty,” and the 14 high schools considered to be “low poverty.”

In response, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr says he has already requested funding to review the ways that students can opt out of the high school they would be assigned to based on their home address.

A majority of Montgomery County’s Black and Latino high school students were enrolled in high poverty schools in 2013, while just one in four students at those schools were White or Asian.

The report finds students at high-poverty high schools are nearly twice as likely to drop out, and more than twice as likely to face an out-of-school suspension, than their counterparts in low-poverty schools

Students at the high poverty schools are also only 55 percent as likely to score a 3 on an Advanced Placement exam, which can lead to college credit, and 44 percent as likely to score a 1,650 or higher on the SAT or a 24 or higher on the ACT.

Students who qualified for free or reduced price meal — a common measure of poverty — who went to high-poverty high schools, were 58 percent as likely as similar students at low-poverty schools to score a 1,650 or higher on the SAT or a 24 or higher on the ACT.

“Across a majority of the measures considered, the achievement gap between high- and low-poverty high schools has widened over the past three to four years. For the remaining measures, the gap has either narrowed or remained the same,” the report concludes.

Specifically, the report finds the achievement gap has grown in regards to performance on AP exams, SAT and ACT scores, academic eligibility for extracurricular activities, and out-of-school suspensions.

The report finds students at high-poverty schools to those in low-poverty schools are:

  • 91% as likely to graduate on-time
  • 76% as likely to maintain their academic eligibility for the entire school year;
  • 71% as likely to complete Algebra 2 by Grade 11 with a C or better, a slight improvement from the last analysis three years ago

The Office of Legislative Oversight recommends a greater focus on integrating students across all of the county’s high schools, and new steps to narrow the achievement gap.

That includes a recommendation that the County Council look at the funding request from county schools from the bottom up.

Starr says the reason for many of the large increases in poor students at certain schools is simply that the schools serve areas with the most affordable housing.

The total number of students qualifying for free or reduced price meals jumped about 45 percent in the last five years across all Montgomery County high schools, but the number of students who do not qualify dropped sharply at the highest- poverty schools.

While the number of students who do not qualify for reduced price meals dropped three percent at the low-poverty schools, it dropped more than 18 percent at high- poverty schools.

The report says 18,743 students attended one of the high-poverty schools in 2013, with 8,314 of those students qualifying for free or reduced price meals.

The report also says 25,704 students attended one of the low-poverty schools in 2013, with 4,330 of those students qualifying for free or reduced price meals.

The Office of Legislative Oversight lists these schools as “high poverty” based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals: Blake, Paint Branch, and Springbrook in the Northeast Consortium; Montgomery Blair, Northwood, Kennedy, Einstein, and Wheaton in the Downcounty Consortium; and Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill, and Seneca Valley high schools.

The report lists these schools as “low poverty”: Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Churchill, Clarksburg, Damascus, Walter Johnson, Magruder, Richard Montgomery, Northwest, Poolesville, Quince Orchard, Rockville, Sherwood, Whitman, and Wootton high schools.

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