Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why is MCPS keeping my child out of school?



My daughter’s “backwardness in Kindergarten English,” her teacher informed me, speaking ever so slowly, was probably due to her limited proficiency. The teacher assured me it was “understandable” given my child’s “background” (hand pointing first at my wife and then me). The teacher then asked me if I understood the term “b-a-c-k-w-a-r-d.”

One learns to ignore these slights in the journey through life, and move forward.

A few minutes worth of research at the National Library of Medicine and evidence of the books my daughter was reading (she could explain the stories to me in detail), convinced me she was reading well above grade. Even though the research and evidence seemed to indicate otherwise, the teacher was unconvinced.

A few weeks later, after the obligatory testing, the teacher, with a straight face and normal speech, informed me that my child was reading at a fourth-grade level. The “good news,” she informed me, was that my child was probably reading at an “even higher level” because the test didn’t measure performance levels above fourth grade.
No apologies for conclusion based on stereotypes. I wondered, as every parent must, if the teacher had even thought about the emotional harm that my child might have suffered.

The teacher began to give me advice on “enrichment” because, as she kindly pointed out, public schools cannot “afford” to spend the time doing so. My daughter, she insisted, was “working above grade level” and “needed” the enrichment.

A meeting with the Principal led to the assurance that her philosophy was to place highest performing students in the same group as the lowest so that “both will be challenged.” Words like “bootstrap” and “challenged” littered our conversational landscape.

A placement test administered by a private school, with a MSDE approved curriculum, led to the advice that our child had mastered material beyond her chronological age level. They recommended a higher grade level for initial placement.

After a year under the supervision of an experienced teacher, I chose to overcome legal hurdles and have my daughter tested MCPS at her new grade level. The Principal would have none of it. Testing her with third-graders was all she would allow—after all it was still a grade higher than my child’s chronological placement.
After the Map-R test, the Principal at Seven Locks ES (SLES) was unable to “print” my daughter’s results or give me her score. The MSA results? Well, that too, it would turn out, would run into difficulties.

A FERPA request to MCPS and the Board of Education produced the missing results.
It must be acknowledged that Ms. Kay Williams, was the silver lining in these proceedings. On May 2, 2008, eight days after my child took the test, Ms. Williams was kind enough to obtain the detailed Map-R results and email it to me. The BOE faxed me my child’s MSA scores on September 3, 2008 at 2:21 PM, long after other kids received theirs.

My daughter tested at a higher grade level, outperformed MCPS norms on the MSAs. The Map-R score, in the words of a MCPS middle school English teacher, “was nothing short of impressive.” The score was within a few points of the highest scoring fourth-grader at SLES, and above the “national norm for gifted fourth graders.” This, by a child relegated by MCPS, to second grade.

Seven Locks ES would welcome my daughter to fourth grade, we were then told, and then suddenly, inexplicably the school reversed itself. After a brief battle, we received the reasons via an email with an attachment. The author of the letter is clearly identified.

How was Mr. Creel able to email letters containing my daughter’s personal information? Wasn’t it in violation of Dr. Frieda Lacey’s memorandum of February 16, 2007 (obtained from http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/specialed/resources/Media.pdf) AND FERPA? What was his motivation for involvement?

This transpired in 2008 and what happened next was even more incredulous. More about that next.

1 comment:

  1. Your daughter is merely an extreme of what occurs to many children with superior academic capabilities.

    The promise of "enhanced instruction" being provided in the midst of classrooms stocked with students of widely differing abilities has largely gone unfulfilled.

    Clearly the underachiever can be pushed to "rise to the occasion" when surrounded by requirements above their expected norm (a la Stand and Deliver), but it has not been adequately explained to me how advanced students benefit from the presence of struggling students. Sympathy? An appreciation for intellect demographics? Perhaps, but this is a lesson I suspect can be mastered through a much shorter interval than that which is imposed on our children.

    The tragedy of children being blocked from entry into advanced classrooms based only on past performance (once referred to as "tracking") seems to have caused the acknowledgment of ability grouping itself to have fallen from favor to the point of attempts to eliminate it entirely; a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The thought occurs that this course of action may also be useful for cost containment, but I have not seen nor sought the evidence for this hypothesis and it should be left for another discussion.

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