Over one-half of the students in Montgomery County, Maryland failed their math final this year, leaving school officials baffled.
According to state figures, 61% of high school students failed the algebra exam, and 67% failed the geometry final. The statistics are not much better in the honors level, with about one-third of students failing.
Middle-school students, who have in the past done extremely well on tests, did not fair much better with 23% failing. That percentage is almost double last semester.
Out of 19,000 students, 11,000 in total failed their math exams.
These pass/fail rates are not normally released, but an exception was made after parents began comparing scores, causing the Rockville Parent-Teacher-Student Association to ask school officials to investigate the issue.
Parents are concerned their children are not being taught well enough to pass the exams.
"That's where these kids are being short-shifted, because if they didn't learn what they needed to learn, they don't have a base," Catalina Schrader, whose daughter took the Algebra 1 exam in June as a middle school student, said.
According to Superintendent Joshua Starr, a group will meet this summer to look into the issue, examining teaching, student support, and how well the exams coordinate with the curriculum.
School officials also offered to add 15 percentage points to scores for the Algebra 1 exam, as well as offering free summer sessions and retesting.
"I don't know what other choice we had than to curve those grades," said School Board Vice President Patricia O'Neill. She and others said they did not want Montgomery students penalized for problems not of their making. "We can't hold children accountable for adult problems."
One teacher at Silver Spring International Middle School went so far as to post the scores without student names. The highest grade was 65%, with only four students earning a passing grade.
Middle school students must pass the exam, worth 25% of their final grade, in order to gain high school credit for the course. Those extra 15 percentage points meant that 758 students throughout the district were able to earn a passing score on the exam.
However, worries continue that the students did not get the support they needed to succeed in Algebra 2 next year.
"Is the problem that they are not getting the content, or is it that the testing is not aligned with what they learned?" asked Schrader. "By adding 15 points, do you really get to the problems or are you glossing over whatever the problem might be?"
Officials are placing the blame on spending more time in preparing students for the state tests that were necessary for graduation and less time on course content. Schools also closed due to the weather, causing classes to lose even more study time. Between the two issues, classes lost two to three weeks of time.
"We have a new curriculum we're implementing, and that curriculum is not completely aligned," Erick Lang, Montgomery's associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional programs, said.
This year marks the first for the curriculum of the Algebra 1 class to have been based on Common Core standards.