The AJC has a long story today about the slippage in math grades in the state, which the state Department of Education attributes to the higher standards. Some posters here attribute it to the state adopting an unproven and unworkable math curriculum.
Many of the critics here on the blog have researched this issue and raised compelling arguments about whether Georgia adopted successful math program ingredients from other states or threw a lot of ideas in a pot and produced a foul stew all of its own.
But the state appears determined to stay with the program. The most valid concern to me is whether there was adequate training of teachers before the state rolled out the new math, which introduces tougher concepts earlier and integrates math instruction across disciplines.
The real question is whether the new state school superintendent will agree. With the resignation of Kathy Cox, I have no idea who will be our next school superintendent. I do think how Georgia teaches math will be one of the big issues during the upcoming campaign in which many newcomers will have to introduce themselves quickly to the voters.
According to the the story: (This is only an excerpt. Check out the whole story.)
“In my classes, I have 60 kids and only 17 are passing. You know how stressful that is on me?” said Donna Aker, a veteran math teacher at South Gwinnett High School.It’s a problem common to many metro Atlanta schools. Nearly one in five ninth-graders in metro Atlanta last year got an F in Math I — the first year of the state’s new math curriculum in high school.
The math failure rate was more than double that experienced by the same group of kids in the eighth grade the year before.
The tougher curriculum is already forcing some of the area’s better students to reconsider signing on for another year of bench-pressing binomials. Some switched to general math their sophomore year, afraid of getting another low grade.
Jessica O’Brien was a straight A student with hopes of going to Harvard University.
Those hopes grew a little dimmer after she got a D in math as a ninth-grader. She opted out of the accelerated program.
“I’m worried I’m going to almost fail again,” said Jessica, now a sophomore and cheerleader at Campbell High in Smyrna. “I’m so used to being good at math.”
Jessica’s mother, Susan O’Brien, backed her all the way.
“Kids are failing left and right, I’m talking your high achievers who never fail,” said O’Brien, who is concerned about Jessica’s shot at Harvard. “My daughter loved math and had been on the math team but only got out with a D in Accelerated Math II. My biggest fear is that it is going to hurt her when she applies for college.”
Starting with the Class of 2012, every Georgia student must pass four years of math to receive a college prep diploma even if he or she plans to attend a technical school or enter the work force after graduation. Special needs students can appeal to opt out after completing Math III if they stay concurrently enrolled in math support classes and a review of their education plan makes it clear that the course would be the highest level they could achieve.
Aker says the program is so accelerated that upperclassmen who used to help her tutor can’t do the math the freshmen do.
“The algebra in Math I is as advanced as what I was teaching to students in Algebra II junior year,” she said. “Some of my juniors in the National Honor Society and Beta Club haven’t even learned it yet.”
When the state initiated this new era of souped-up instruction in math, pushing students to grasp complex concepts in algebra, geometry and statistics sooner than ever before, the goal was to produce a new generation of college-ready teens to compete globally.
By prolonging the exposure of all students to complex math, the state expected to help increase Georgia’s average SAT score, which ranks near the bottom among states.
“On the SAT, when we looked at all of the kids who have taken math at different levels, we found that even our high achievers are still performing below the rest of the country,” said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. “Our kids are just as smart as any other kids. They need to be able to compete with students around the world for jobs and college.”
The math overhaul was pushed by state Superintendent Kathy Cox. Now that Cox has announced she will not seek a third term, some parents and teachers wonder whether the program will continue at the same accelerated pace, be diluted or scrapped altogether by her successor.
For students, the program got off to a rough start.
In 2009, nearly 20,100 failing grades were handed out to high school freshmen in Georgia — about 17 percent of all grades given in the new Math I course. That’s more than double the percentage of failing grades given in the eighth-grade preparatory class the previous year, according to state statistics obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In metro Atlanta, nearly 19 percent of Math I grades were F’s.
It’s also tough on teachers, including some who say they were not properly trained to teach the new content.
“You have to cover everything. It’s a lesson a day,” said Aker, who is co-president of the Gwinnett County Association of Educators. “There is no time to get them to master each section.”
Janet Davis, the state’s math program manager, believes that “as students, teachers and parents become more comfortable with this curriculum we will see the scores increase.”
At Duluth High, the 2009 math grades concerned principal Jason Lane so much that he developed a plan to give 100 select freshmen flexible block schedules next fall so they can have 90 minutes of math instruction instead of 52 and earn more credits.Now, as students take End of Course tests, the state will soon have its first progress report on how well students are performing under the increased demand.
Aker says the state should consider spreading Math I and Math II over four years to give students more time to understand them. “To have every child take this math, those who aren’t going to college, those who are special ed in self-contained classrooms, to me feels like a conspiracy on how to make kids fail.”
Davis, the state’s math director, however, says she is “pleased” with early results from End of Course tests given in December 2009 to students on block schedules taking Math I. Overall, 61 percent met or exceeded standards in Algebra I and 65 percent met or exceeded them in geometry, which is slightly better than under the old curriculum. Students still learning English, however, performed better under the old curriculum. She is counting on exam scores as well as SAT scores to improve over time as students move through school. The Class of 2019 will be the first to have had the accelerated math exposure from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“I can’t see a benefit of offering a math program a student couldn’t use to go to college, technical [school] or the workplace,” Davis said. “… What we are giving our students who struggle is an opportunity to feel as successful as our students who are mathematically talented.”