Almost two-thirds of high school students in Montgomery County who took Algebra I last semester failed their final math exam, causing parents and school officials to search for answers as to what went wrong.
Data shows 61 percent -- or about 2,700 -- of high school students in the county taking Algebra I failed the final exam for the class last semester.
High schoolers taking finals in other math courses also had high rates of failing: 62 percent failed geometry finals, 57 percent failed Algebra 2, and 48 percent failed precalculus.
Combined, about 11,000 students did not pass their math final last semester in those classes out of slightly more than 19,000 who took the finals.
The issue came to light after parents and administrators at Rockville High School started circulating the data. Normally, final exam pass/fail rates are not released by Montgomery County Public Schools.
Parents said they wanted answers as to why such a high number of students were failing the final exam, and why that wasn't raising alarm among county officials.
Members of the Rockville High School PTSA, including President Dylan Presman, asked officials to look into the startling failure rates. Laurie Halverson, curriculum co-chair for the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and parent of an MCPS student, said the numbers are alarming.
"I am concerned because this is on grade-level math, and there's a high percentage of failure rate," she said. "That rate is telling me that something is not right."
MCPS Spokesman Dana Tofig said final exam data is usually plugged into cumulative course data, so numerical breakdowns are not immediately known. He said a task force is being formed to examine why the numbers for last semester are so high, and the district is beginning to pull data to see whether this has historically been a problem.
He said anecdotal evidence points to student performance on final exams being roughly the same in previous years.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, requested the district breakdown the demographics of which schools are performing worse than others. She said she believes the county should take a deeper look to see not only where problems are occurring, but also what grade level the students are in who are failing the exams.
"Clearly, [students who failed] aren't all from the same school or the same teacher, so what does that tell us?" she said. "How large is this problem? Was this math test in place across a whole lot of schools or just some schools? We're waiting to receive that information."
Halverson said she believes the scores might be indicative of problems at individual schools and not countywide. She said a lot of factors also might be at play, such as kids who settle for a less-than-stellar final grade because their overall course grade is so high.