“I don’t think I disagree with any of it,” Board of Education member Michael A. Durso (5th District) said. “I thought it was pretty insightful, and I was kind of pleased that they as a department came forward.”
Durso has suggested a countywide survey of Montgomery’s math teachers. More than 370 work at the high school level.
At Walt Whitman High School, Russ Rushton, head of the math department, says some teachers have floated the idea of using percentage grades for each quarter and the exam, rather than traditional letter grades.
“The thing is, about any grading system, there are pros and cons to any of it,” Rushton said. He said he does not support increasing the weight of exams without knowing more about the strength of the tests.
Students, too, have various views.
Some say they would not mind seeing final exams eliminated. But Will Shropshire, 16, a rising junior at Rockville High School, said he thinks finals are important. “It gets you ready for college,” he said.
Failing final exams could have significant fallout.
In middle school, students who take high school math classes — Algebra 1 or Honors Geometry, for example — must pass the high school exam to receive credit for the course, as is required by the state.
In high school, passing the exam is not required. But when students fail exams, some see their course grades dip, which affects grade-point averages and, potentially, college applications.
Other students are less affected. For example, a high school student who earned C’s for a semester’s two quarters will typically get a C in the course, unless he pulls an A on the final exam. Many consult an online table of grading scenarios as they prepare for finals, a chart that indicates many students might not have a reason to care much about them.
Montgomery officials said the two work groups — whose members have not yet been announced — will begin meeting this summer. One group will use data to identify students who need intervention as the fall semester starts.
The other group, which will include parents and community leaders, will look at the problem in a “long-range” way and might meet throughout next school year.
Durso, the school board member, said spotting problems in education is always easier than finding solutions. “I think before the dust settles — if the dust ever does settle — we’re going to have a lot of ideas out there,” he said.