In Fairfax County schools, 22 to 25 percent of high school students in three non-honors math courses — Algebra 2, geometry and pre-calculus — did not pass finals last year. Students in the same courses at the honors level did far better, with exam failure rates of 5 to 7 percent.
Few districts in the region reported the widespread problems that have left many reeling in Montgomery, where a majority of 30,000 students enrolled in seven math courses failed math exams during the fall semester. More recently, Montgomery school data showed steep rates of final-exam failure in some biology, English and history courses.
But previously unreleased figures from six of 10 other local school systems show that exam failure is not uncommon, even if it is not widely known. Many districts do not closely track final-exam grades systemwide, The Post found. In most cases, the data provided were compiled in response to The Post’s requests.
In an era of standardized testing, the high school final exam — though still important to many — may have slipped in standing. Many school leaders said they are more focused on other measures of student success and school performance: state-mandated tests, course grades, graduation rates, Advanced Placement exam results, SAT scores.
But experts say that if the results of final exams are not collected and analyzed, larger questions are in order.
“How important are they, and if they’re not important, why are they still there?” asked Francis “Skip” Fennell, a professor of education at McDaniel College in Maryland and past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, said that if exams are good tests of mastery, results can be useful in guiding teaching, assessing curricula and helping students. “I can’t imagine not wanting to look at the data,” Pianta said. “If no one’s looking at those exam scores, that’s information that’s not being used, and that’s too bad.”
In Montgomery, high failure rates on high school exams go back a number of years, but the issue came to light most recently when Rockville PTSA President Dylan Presman obtained figures and e-mailed them widely in late April. Finals count for 25 percent of a course grade in Montgomery schools.
Since the disclosure of widespread failures, parents, teachers and elected officials have raised concerns about the county’s grading policies, exam content, teaching and student placement. Two study groups are forming to look into the problem, starting this summer.