While it is unclear what the new benchmarks will be, the facelift of the Seven Keys comes as Montgomery Superintendent Joshua P. Starr seeks to broaden the system’s definition of student success to include skills not measured in standardized tests — such as persistence, motivation and grit — in addition to traditional academic knowledge focused on reading and math.
Susan F. Marks, Montgomery’s acting associate superintendent for shared accountability, said the keys will change as state standardized tests used to determine what is “advanced” in reading changes and the county adopts a tougher math curriculum.
But, Marks said, the county also will work to update the keys and the school system’s strategic goals to address wider skills, such as communication, problem solving and drive. “The struggle is there is not a test for some of these things,” Marks said.
In one of the best-performing and competitive school districts in the country, the aim of the Seven Keys has been clear: Students should graduate ready for college, regardless of where they come from and whether they plan to get a degree. The keys have met with some resistance. Some in the community believe they have led the school system to push students too far, too fast, becoming a driving force behind decisions about a student’s academic trajectory.
Board of Education member Michael E. Durso (5th District) said the keys can end up putting pressure on students and educators. “I know schools [were] putting students in eighth-grade algebra almost midyear because of the numbers we were looking for,” Durso said.
Montgomery parent Michelle Gluck said the Seven Keys have made a lasting mark in a county full of parents with high expectations.
“The Seven Keys have contributed to the mind-set in parents that the on-grade-level curriculum was remedial, and to be on a college-prep track a student had to be advanced,” Gluck said. “Now they are re-norming the on-grade-level curriculum to what it should be, which is college prep.”
Since the Seven Keys launched in 2009, the county goals have been plastered on school walls and distributed in e-mails and pamphlets, with a focus on reaching families for which college hasn’t been a tradition. Despite gains in academic performance, Montgomery continues to grapple with how to best change and use the Seven Keys to close its achievement gap and prepare students for life after high school.
“How do we continue to use things like the Seven Keys to hold ourselves accountable for great academic achievement while also developing very focused frameworks around social [and] emotional skills and 21st-century skills,” Starr said at a board meeting in December. “It will be a great struggle and a great opportunity.”