As national education reforms continue to take shape, Montgomery County, Md., public schools are adopting a more rigorous curriculum and altering their definition of what it means to be “college ready.” For years, the district has held its Seven Keys to College Readiness, which now will be revised. While the exact changes are still unclear, officials say the standards likely are to focus on more rigorous academic measures, as well as areas that cannot be measured with standardized tests, such as persistence, motivation and communication. 

The Montgomery County Public Schools system is revamping its signature Seven Keys to College Readiness as the district and American educators rethink what students should know and be able to do upon high school graduation.

The county’s “keys” set benchmarks that students from elementary to high school should aim for in reading, math and exams such as the SAT to prepare themselves for college. But many aspects of the academic pathway need to be redefined as the county implements curriculum to meet new national and state education reforms designed with more challenging course work.

While it is unclear what the new benchmarks will be, the facelift of the Seven Keys comes as Montgomery Superintendent Joshua P. Starr seeks to broaden the system’s definition of student success to include skills not measured in standardized tests — such as persistence, motivation and grit — in addition to traditional academic knowledge focused on reading and math.

Susan F. Marks, Montgomery’s acting associate superintendent for shared accountability, said the keys will change as state standardized tests used to determine what is “advanced” in reading changes and the county adopts a tougher math curriculum.

But, Marks said, the county also will work to update the keys and the school system’s strategic goals to address wider skills, such as communication, problem solving and drive. “The struggle is there is not a test for some of these things,” Marks said.

In one of the best-performing and competitive school districts in the country, the aim of the Seven Keys has been clear: Students should graduate ready for college, regardless of where they come from and whether they plan to get a degree. The keys have met with some resistance. Some in the community believe they have led the school system to push students too far, too fast, becoming a driving force behind decisions about a student’s academic trajectory.

Board of Education member Michael E. Durso (5th District) said the keys can end up putting pressure on students and educators. “I know schools [were] putting students in eighth-grade algebra almost midyear because of the numbers we were looking for,” Durso said.

Montgomery parent Michelle Gluck said the Seven Keys have made a lasting mark in a county full of parents with high expectations.

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