Dear Extra Credit:

The second objective in the Montgomery County public schools' strategic plan for ensuring success of every student is to maintain a learning environment that recognizes and supports a diverse student population and promotes character education.

Two measures of success are the percentage of students by demographic group participating in extracurricular activities and the percentage of students by group not eligible to participate. Why doesn't MCPS publish this information by high school and make it available to the public so that we can promote performance? Isn't the information critical to parents and students selecting among schools in the downcounty and other consortiums?

Gordon Brenne

President, Einstein High

School Booster Club

Silver Spring

Kate Harrison, assistant director of communications and public information for the Montgomery County schools, says such data have not been published because the school system doesn't have the information and isn't likely to collect it in the future.

Harrison said officials intended to collect information on participation rates in extracurricular activities but decided in May to remove it from their list of strategic objectives, although some high schools individually collect the information.

Gathering activities data, she says, "is not as important as other publicly reported data currently available for individual high schools," such as test scores, suspensions, graduation rates, attendance, college-level course enrollment, and surveys of parents, students and teachers.

The eligibility rate for extracurricular activity can also be calculated by looking at how many high school students achieved a grade-point average of 2.0 or above, the requirement for anyone who wants to participate, "and staff will be collecting and analyzing that information," she said.

It is difficult to find conclusive research on how extracurricular activities affect students and their schools. Educators at the Clovis Unified School District, which includes Fresno, Calif., have tried to get the highest possible participation, arguing that it improves grades and the students' health. Ross Wiener, policy director of the Washington-based Education Trust, which promotes academic achievement, said communities have to decide which factors they want to emphasize. He said he could not judge the soundness of Montgomery County's decisions without examining its entire strategic plan.

Montgomery County school board member Henry Lee (Northeastern County) said studies show that "the achievement level of students who participate in sports and are physically fit is much higher than the achievement level of students who do not participate in sports and are physically fit," but it is not clear whether the sports activity helps in the classroom or whether other factors are responsible.

Board member Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said a group of residents is studying the issue of academic eligibility for extracurricular activities, and many principals have provided good information on how many students are participating.

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