Physics students tested on untaught concepts

Feb. 8, 2007, midnight | By Hareesh Ganesan | 17 years ago

Confusion results from rearranged curriculum out of sync with county

Physics students took a county exam that included material they had not been taught because Blair teachers did not adhere to county requirements and reorganized the official MCPS curriculum, deviating from county guidelines.

Although students had to answer questions they were not taught, county regulation allowed the teachers could omit up to 15 percent of the test after its administration, according to a response from Anita O'Neill, the MCPS science supervisor.

Throughout the year, Blair Physics teachers followed the county curriculum but reorganized its order, moving light and energy concepts to second semester and teaching waves concepts first semester. Because the school was only told last October that the first semester exam would cover light and energy concepts, teachers did not have enough time to cover the additional topics before the January exams.

After being told that the exam would cover topics they would not have time to teach, Blair teachers tried to resolve the issue with MCPS before the exam was given. But Blair was never given permission by MCPS to reorganize the new curriculum.

"No high school, including Montgomery Blair, has been given permission to deviate from or change the Physics curriculum," O'Neill replied. She said the new curriculum was created by county teachers and was implemented countywide in 2004 but that the curriculum was not intended to be rearranged by teachers. "Units of study in science and all other MCPS curricula are not designed to be mixed and matched between semesters," O'Neill replied.

According to a listserv post by Bonnie Malkin, PTSA vice president of academic achievement, Blair Physics teachers resolved the issue by giving students credit for answers regardless of whether they were taught, in accordance with MCPS policy.

Last September, a group of school staff and central office administrators from MCPS reviewed the results of the piloted curriculum and decided to standardize the exam for all students. School principals were notified of the decision on Oct. 4.

To ease the transition, MCPS provided training for teachers regarding the curriculum and the exam throughout last September and November, but no Blair teachers attended. "The Blair Physics team did not participate in any of the professional development opportunities offered," O'Neill said.

The decision to standardize the exam was made to ensure that all MCPS students learned the same material and were prepared for future courses. O'Neill said that MCPS is moving towards standardizing exams in more subjects. "[The decision] was made so students could be prepared for more rigorous course work," Carol Blum, director of High School Achievement and Instruction, said, adding that standardizing exams ensures that the curriculum would be consistent for students who transfer schools within Montgomery County.

The Blair science department declined to comment on the issue.

Hareesh Ganesan. More »

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