Travel on the Capital Beltway (I-495), the interstate highway that surrounds our nation’s capital, and when you enter Virginia, you will encounter construction that is creating an express lane for commuters willing to pay for the luxury. Access, as they say, is strictly monitored with a plethora of electronic equipment.
Common sense tells us that the absence of strict enforcement of rules governing access to the expressway, it could be reduced to just another lane on the Capital Beltway.
Academic acceleration, in the form of access to above-grade level courses, also requires strict, transparent, rules that govern access. In the absence of such rules, students ill prepared for the higher level instruction can make their way into the courses, creating bottlenecks that are often remedied by watering down the course content. The Gazette, for example, reported a few years ago that parents and educators alike were expressing concerns about the “number and readiness of students in accelerated math classes.”
It is no secret that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) have been identifying nearly forty-percent of their second graders as performing above grade level in English, math, or both. Clearly, these students need access to appropriately challenging instruction.
In the past, the school system has used what it calls Global Screening to place these students in the appropriate above-grade level classes, albeit only in English and math. These students were also given the gifted and talented (GT) label. However, there is little debate that the process was, at best, uneven.
MCPS does have formal policies that govern the academic acceleration of students. MCPS has a policy, JEC, “that recognizes the profound effect that placement, promotion, acceleration, and retention decisions have on students.”
The section devoted to acceleration is rather sparse, one paragraph that simply states “Before a student in grades one through eight is considered for acceleration, the student’s needs must be reviewed by the Educational Management Team. For students in kindergarten, see MCPS Policy JEB: Early Entrance to First Grade and Administrative Regulation JEB-RB: Early Entrance to First Grade. The decision-making process includes parents/guardians and staff. Students are included when appropriate. The final responsibility for the decision rests with the principal.”
What are the student’s needs that are considered? What academic milestones become part of the decision for acceleration? There is little articulation of the criteria that is considered by the “Educational Management Team,” at least publicly available, that will empower a parent advocating for acceleration.
The “math pathways,” available to students, states “Acceleration occurs in Kindergarten through Grade 8. Acceleration does not mean that the student “skips” a course. For example, when the brokenred arrow shows a path that takes a student from Math 2 in Grade 2 to Math 4 in Grade 3, this means that the student has mastered the content of both Math 2 and Math 3 in Grade 2 before moving into Math 4 in the next grade. It is important for a student to demonstrate proficiency in the content of a course before he/she is moved to the next level. Students have the option to move from an on-level course to Honors or Advanced Placement courses at any time throughout high school. ”
How was mastery of content measured?
Clearly, the school system can benefit from a clear, well-articulated acceleration policy. One need to look no further than Ohio for an example of a detailed, well-written acceleration policy. Even closer to home, the NAGC, located in Washington, DC, provides useful guidelines for developing an acceleration policy.
Eliminating access to higher level classes is not the answer. Creating a strict policy to govern access is the simple solution.