Montgomery Carries Maryland to Top 10 in AP Testing

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Maryland ranked second in the nation for Advanced Placement achievement in the Class of 2006. Without Montgomery County's contribution, however, the state would drop out of the top 10.

The state's standout performance in the 2007 "Advanced Placement Report to the Nation," released Tuesday, is largely the story of Montgomery's AP success. The county yielded 4,234 seniors in the Class of 2006 who had earned at least one passing score -- 3 or better on a five-point scale -- on an Advanced Placement test. The tests measure high school students on college-level work.

The county was responsible for more than one-third of the 12,273 Maryland seniors with passing AP scores on their transcripts. It produced one-sixth of the 2006 graduates statewide.

Only one other state, New York, outperformed Maryland in AP performance last year. In New York, 22.7 percent of graduating seniors scored 3 or higher on an AP test; in Maryland, 22 percent attained the score.

Remove Montgomery from the equation, and Maryland drops toward the middle of the pack. In the rest of the state, 17.4 percent of graduates passed one or more AP tests, which would put the state behind Colorado in 11th place.

Since 2002, the share of Montgomery students who graduate with at least one passing AP score has climbed from 37 percent to 45 percent. That's three times the national average pass rate of 15 percent. (A score of 3 or higher on a five-point scale usually gets college credit.)

Black and Hispanic students in Montgomery have lagged behind whites and Asians in AP performance, but both groups outperform the national average for all students: 16 percent of black students and 33 percent of Hispanic students graduated in 2006 having passed an AP test.

It's worth noting, however, that those percentages dipped between 2005 and 2006 for blacks. Number-crunchers will be watching for reports in 2007 and 2008 to see if the county's AP expansion starts to level off.

Parents Rally for Special Ed

A hardy few braved temperatures in the teens Monday to demonstrate against the planned closure of special-education centers in eight middle and high schools.

Tom Jones, the father of a 13-year-old student in the Secondary Learning Center at Tilden Middle School in Rockville, endured a wind-chill factor of "about zero" while he stood with a few other parents along Connecticut Avenue at East West Highway during morning rush hour; "pretty cold for a Florida boy," he said afterward.

About 10 parents turned out at noon to rally outside the school system headquarters on Hungerford Drive in Rockville.

Their signs conveyed the message that parents had been left out of deliberations to phase out Secondary Learning Centers in middle and high schools. That is one of several issues the parents have raised during weeks of unrelenting protests; they also contend that closing the centers would violate special-education law, and that school system administrators have made various misstatements to defend their decision.

"There's no collaboration, even though the board has all these policies about collaborating with parents," said Jeanne Taylor, a mother of three special-needs children. "Senior staff just has this history about dictating to parents what they're going to do."

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast proposed eliminating the centers, which offer a largely self-contained setting for special-education students, over three years as part of a larger move toward "inclusion" of the special-needs population in regular classes, which is a national goal.

Montgomery school officials contend the centers have not proven academically successful and cite poor performance on the Maryland School Assessment as evidence. They say the county has lagged behind a federal mandate to shift students into regular classes, where they can receive more rigorous instruction.

Many parents with children at the centers say the self-contained classes work best for their children.

Weast has already offered a revised plan that slows the phaseout to a six-year period and allows current students to remain in the centers until graduation.

But protest has continued. The county PTA, in a letter last month to the school board president, voiced opposition to Weast's revised plan, absent evidence that the school system would still provide "a full continuum" of special-education services.

Another group, the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, may be planning to weigh in on the opposite side of the issue. Leaders of that group, based in Hanover, favor inclusion of special-needs students in regular classrooms and would like to see the learning centers closed. In a Feb. 2 letter, the group threatened immediate legal action if the school system did not proceed with its original plan to phase out the learning centers in three years.

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