Changes Lead to Cohort Classes Located at Other Middle Schools

by Izzy Pilot ‘18

 In an effort to provide greater access to curriculum and programs for highly able students and ensure that there are opportunities for all students, regardless of background, MCPS recently unveiled a new “Field Test Selection Process” for the Eastern and Takoma Park Middle School magnet programs.

 In previous years, students and parents have “self-selected” to take the test which determines admission into these programs. Under this process, only 700 to 800 applicants were considered annually, with the vast majority of them being of white or Asian heritage. Institutional barriers such as language and socio-economic status deterred African-American and Hispanic students from applying.

 Controversy has sparked over the new admissions factor of instructional need. Instructional need is defined by the availability of an academic peer group within a student’s local school. If there is a cohort of at least 20 students in the same middle school with a comparable academic range, these students form a “peer group.” If there is already a peer group at a high performing student’s home middle school, that student may not be invited to the magnet programs.

 The Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs is developing accelerated and enriched courses which will be field tested in select middle schools next year. These are the courses which the cohorts of highly able learners will take rather than attending the magnet programs.

 In 2017, 206 white students applied and were considered for admission to the program at Eastern while only 52 Hispanic students were considered. This would be somewhat reasonable if there were significantly more white students in the county than Hispanic students, but the statistics actually show that about 28 percent of MCPS students are white while approximately 33 percent are of Hispanic heritage.

 The new field test selection process will aim to minimize this inequity by universally screening all fifth grade students in the Eastern and Takoma Park cluster rather than only screening those who self-select to take the test. This allows the county to consider over 8,000 students for admission to Eastern or Takoma rather than the usual 700-800 self-selected test-takers. After the initial screening, which factors in academic success/test scores as well as a new variable of instructional need, parents are notified as to whether or not the county believes their child demonstrates the ability to thrive in either or both of the magnet programs.

 As with any big change to the school system, there are still details and logistics to be worked out along the way. Many parents throughout the county are ridiculing these changes, saying that highly gifted learners should not be denied admission to magnet schools. There are also concerns of tracking, a system that MCPS tried to steer away from with the elimination of Gifted and Talented (GT) classes. The MCCPTA Gifted Child Committee has encouraged parents to file appeals to the decision and advocate for their children by reaching out to central office with questions and concerns.

 However, as stated at the April 24 Board of Education meeting, the goal of these changes is not to deny anyone from opportunities, but to “increases program accessibility by serving as child advocates for enhanced programming” and to “increase the system’s programming options to serve its students.”