Increase in Failing Exam Grades Creates Skepticism and Raises Eyebrows


“Thousands fail high school math finals in Montgomery.” “Montgomery flunked finals in math.” “Montgomery County’s math problem.” “Montgomery County Schools’ bad math.” “Montgomery reports 5-year string of high failure rates on math finals.”

Most people have seen headlines regarding the recent discovery of the high number of MCPS students failing math finals. According to The Washington Post, “A majority of roughly 30,000 high school students taking seven math courses failed their final exams. The failure rate was 62 percent for the geometry final, 61a��percent for Algebra I and 57 percent for Algebra II.” MCPS officials are disturbed and flabbergasted by these statistics.

Accompanying these apparently staggering numbers is a lot of hand-wringing and desperate inquiries, as well as harried research: Does the test material correspond to the curriculum? Is the grading that students are receiving throughout the school year too easy? Do the high number of students taking accelerated math courses lack foundation in this subject?

Though these are reasonable and relevant questions that should be taken into account, there are obvious explanations as to why students do not do well on their final exams. Firstly, there are students that just give up. There is too much material to relearn in too little time, and they simply run out of energy.

Then there are students that have actually failed the class and have no hope of doing well on the final. They are joined by students that simply lack motivation’they have done very well each quarter and because finals only count for 25 percent of their grade, they miscalculate their mathematical abilities, do not study and do worse than they expect. Some students simply do not care about their exam grade.

If one were to interview a random sample of students, many would say they felt unprepared going into their finala��but due more to their lack of studying than anything else. Very few people would say they felt that the curriculum did not at all correspond to the test, which seems to be the most prominent theory.

Blake HS math teacher Michael Krawczel has strong feelings on this subject. “The curriculum matches up perfectly with the review guide, and the review guide matches up perfectly with the testa��For the most part, the kids doing badly are the ones who just don’t care,” said Krawczel.

The explanation that these test scores are a result of an issue within the psyche of the student body, and not with the alignment of the curriculum and test is further supported by new school data. Statistics suggest that this is a problem that extends beyond just matha��37 to 50 percent of students failed high school history, biology and English courses. If low scores on final exams are not an isolated issue specific to math, the source of the problem is obviously much broader than initially perceived.

It is also extremely important that we keep in mind that final exam grades are not the ultimate indicators of proficiency. Some people are simply better at taking tests than others. Many students cram for exams, do well, and then forget all of the material within the next couple of weeks. Other students just do not do well under pressure, or have a complete understanding of the material but need more time to demonstrate this understanding.

And in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Top Montgomery County students are stilling getting accepted into fabulous colleges, doing well and becoming enormously successful. MCPSa�� SAT scores have not experienced any significant change, with the average score actually increasing by almost 40 points in 2010. In a recent survey by the US News & World Report, Winston Church High School, MCPSa�� highest ranking high school was named 52nd in the nation.

So this is not a catastrophe, and there are no fundamental problems with MCPSa�� mathematics program. Everybody needs to just calm down.