Starr hosts roundtable discussion, MCPS to focus on widespread student achievement

By Scott Singer

MCPS will turn its attention to closing the achievement gap between schools by incentivizing veteran teachers to teach in schools with underperforming students, superintendent Joshua Starr told student journalists at a roundtable discussion last Monday.

The discussion was attended by 18 journalists from county schools asking about a variety of topics such as cybercivility, energy drinks and the bring-your-own-device policy. However, talk about the newly passed 2014-15 budget dominated the conversation.

In late February, the MCPS Board of Education passed the new budget proposal, which was 2.4 percent higher than Starr’s preliminary proposal, Starr said. Under the new budget agreement, teachers will receive a “well deserved increase in pay,” he said. In addition, certain teachers, designated as lead teachers for their experience and success, will receive higher pay if they volunteer to teach in underperforming schools.

Superintendant Joshua Starr discussed student achievement, cybercivility and new standardized testing at his roundtable discussion SdlFJD. Photo by Scott Singer.
Superintendant Joshua Starr discussed student achievement, cybercivility and new standardized testing at his roundtable discussion last Monday. Photo by Scott Singer.

“The program incentivizes teachers to teach in the toughest schools,” Starr said. The designation  of these schools will be based on student performance and income, Starr said. The program will begin this fall.

Starr also addressed the introduction of PARCC tests, which will replace MSAs and HSAs in 2015. Unlike the tests currently in place, PARCC tests will be administered nationally to align with the new Common Core curriculum beginning next year, he said.

He criticized the current testing system, saying that there is no reason that MCPS gives the MSA except to comply with federal law. Starr said that the current multiple choice test assessments given don’t assess the critical thinking required to be successful after high school.

“You guys are the ‘No Child Left Behind’ generation,” Starr said. “You are told that you can find the answer in A, B, C and D, and sometimes E.”

Instead of testing students on their ability to recall information, PARCC exams will assess students on their ability to apply new knowledge—a form of higher-order learning, as the county calls it. For example, a sample math question would outline different ways to solve a word problem and a student would have to identify a method that works. Past assessments would have simply had the students solve the problem, Starr said.

He also discussed recent incidents in which students harassed and threatened him on Twitter to plead for snow days. However, he mostly criticized the media for over-exaggerating the incident.

“I was not cyberbullied,” he said. “I’d call it harassment; I wouldn’t call it cyber-bullying.”

Starr said that the school year might be extended since the county has exceeded its four allotted snow days. If MCPS is forced to make up the missed days, school will end on Wednesday, June 18. Exams would most likely be pushed back, he added.

“You should always build in some time,” Starr said when asked about students who had prior engagements during the first weeks of summer.

However, there’s a chance that the state will waive the extra days, allowing students to be released on the current date of Thursday, June 12. Since the state called a state of emergency during two of the days, the odds are increased that the state would waive those days, Starr said.

Concluding the discussion, Starr shifted the focus to student morale, stressing the importance of not stressing out too much about grades and colleges.

“We’ve turned our attention to students’ social and emotional welfare,” he said. “Kids who have a good sense of well-being and hope, who feel good about their future, do much better in life.”