Do you think, broadly speaking, that your school is a “good” one? That’s probably a tough question to answer. Obviously, a good school is one where students succeed academically. But measuring academic success is often difficult and subjective. Should schools use GPAs, which can be inflated artificially? Should schools use graduates’ college placement, which often depend as much on their bank account as their brainpower? There is no one good answer.
Although some don’t want to admit it, standardized tests are sometimes the best way to make apples-to-apples comparisons between students from different schools. When a student takes an AP test, for example, the only thing really affecting their score is how well they know the content of the class. Therefore, AP tests are a good measurement of how much learning actually took place in AP classes.
And the test scores say that Sherwood students are, in fact learning. In January, MCPS released data on how individual schools and the county as a whole fared on AP exams in 2017. MCPS is widely considered an excellent school system, but Sherwood’s scores were often above-average even against steep competition. In 2017, 80.2 percent of AP exams taken by Sherwood students received scores of 3 or higher, compared with 73.4 percent in MCPS as a whole. Sherwood’s success is particularly evident in the English Department; using the same metric, Sherwood outperformed MCPS by over 20 percentage points in both AP English classes.
What’s more, Sherwood saw a nine-percent increase from 2016, while MCPS saw its percentage of 3-or-better exams decrease slightly over the same span. Obviously, some credit here goes to the students. But unless last year’s test takers were inexplicably smarter than those from the year before, such an increase is only possible through improvements made by teachers, which we commend.
Like many school systems in America, MCPS has worked especially hard to help students from traditionally disadvantaged demographics. Based on its AP scores, Sherwood has done pretty well in this area. While there is still a sizeable gulf between white and nonwhite students, Sherwood’s African-American students outperformed those in MCPS as a whole by 16 percent using the 3-or better metric. Sherwood’s advantage was even larger among Hispanic/ Latino students: 79.9 percent for Sherwood, 58.5 percent for MCPS. Finally, Sherwood’s performance outstripped that of MCPS among students on Freeand-Reduced Meals by nearly 26 percent, and among students in ESOL programs by 4.4 percent.
As promising as this AP data, its conclusions can only go so far, as about half of students, both at Sherwood and MCPS in general, did not take any AP or IB classes (no Sherwood students take IB classes). In November of 2017, MCPS released data on the redesigned and pre-2016 SAT (those with a maximum score of 1600), which 71.2 percent of last year’s Sherwood seniors took (and many others likely took a similar test-the ACT). Sherwood students outperformed the MCPS average 1150 to 1126. Sherwood’s African-American and Hispanic/Latino students were also more likely to meet College and Career Readiness Benchmarks in both English and Math.
It’s not very often that The Warrior gives such effusive praise to Sherwood. But here, it is well-deserved. The data is in: Sherwood students are learning.