One of the most well-informed group of posters on this blog has been parents and teachers concerned over the state’s new methodology for teaching math. I am eager to hear their comments on the statewide End of Course test results for Math II.
Only 52 percent of the students who took the End of Course Test for Math II in May passed, the state recently reported. Many students in metro Atlanta schools who took the tests squeaked by with barely passing grades, earning modest average scores of C’s and D’s for their districts.
The freshman class, meanwhile, fared somewhat better on the Math I End of Course Test, with 64 percent passing.
The benchmark scores reflect what several educators and parents have been saying all along: The new math curriculum, souped-up to get teens competitive for college, is leaving some students in the dust.
Tamela Cosby, an Atlanta Public Schools high school teacher, said only 20 percent of her ninth- and 10th-graders passed the final. They also struggled with the material in class.
“Since the course is a little difficult for the students, it’s not enough time to teach to mastery,” Cosby said. “They are not really understanding the material. For a lot of them, it’s the reading comprehension. They are not understanding what is being asked of them. It’s not just two plus two, there are word problems. They are not used to thinking in that aspect.”
About 80,000 teens statewide failed final exams in Math I and Math II in May.
Students in Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett schools earned a C-average for their district on the Math II End of Course Test. The lowest marks went to Atlanta Public Schools and Clayton County Schools, sharing a D-average on both Math I and Math II End of Course Tests. Two more affluent districts at opposite ends of the metro area — Forsyth and Fayette — rose to the top of the class, however, with students earning the equivalent of B’s on both Math I and Math II exams.
Kelly Price, a curriculum coordinator in Forsyth, saw her district do well, but she understood the challenges.
“Some students were good at the other way of doing math because all they had to do was memorize and regurgitate,” she said. “They never applied or understood, but they were good at spitting it back out. Now, we are asking them to put the pieces together. That is a whole different level of demonstrating mastery.”
The state Department of Education is optimistic that math scores will improve over time as teens adjust to the accelerated pace and get more familiar with complex concepts in algebra, geometry and statistics, which are being taught to students sooner than ever before. They see the end goal of dramatically improving state SAT scores and churning out classes of grads able to compete globally for jobs and admission to top colleges without remediation as within Georgia’s reach.
“We have to have well-educated students no matter what they are going to do after high school,” said Janet Davis, math program manager for the state DOE. “Our students have to be mathematically able to function in a 21st-century society. They are going to have to be problem solvers in a very different world.”
Beginning with the Class of 2012, every 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.
Some teens on the path to graduation got off to a shaky start. About 39,400 students failed the Math II End of Course Test, which accounts for 15 percent of their grade. About 40,600 students failed the Math I End of Course Test.
For the failing and near failing, help could soon be on the way. The state may allow some struggling math students to take an emergency break to keep them from veering off course toward a timely graduation.
State math officials have asked the Board of Education to consider a measure at their August meeting that will allow low-performing students headed for Math III — an Algebra II and statistics course – to instead take the slower Math III support class full time to meet their third-year requirement. Support classes for struggling students, taken in concert with math courses, spend more time on explaining complex math lessons. They were designed to help students be more successful at passing math core classes.
“This is a bridge measure we could put in place for the first two graduating classes instead of continuing to push them on into Math III,” Davis explained. “Our goal has always been to make sure that our students are learning the concepts at the most rigorous level possible, but not at the expense of our students.”
If successful at Math III support for the year, students could then take Math III senior year, Davis said.
If the state board approves the option, it could soon be extended to students across metro Atlanta where math final test scores were mediocre.
Despite her best efforts, even Donna Aker, a Gwinnett high school math teacher, said her daughter earned only a D in her Math II course with tutoring at school and at home from Mom. Aker said her own classes of Math I freshmen didn’t fare much better. Only about 60 percent of them passed the Math I course — with D’s, not A’s or B’s, as they tried to recall facts and formulas she says some may not even use after graduation.
“This is a true college-bound curriculum we are teaching — not all children are going to college,” said Aker. “I just don’t think that the one-size-fits-all approach is the way to go.”
It was a different story in Forsyth. Price said she is pleased with her district’s scores, adding that they will curb anxiety parents and students had about the state’s accelerated math program.
Price attributes Forsyth’s success to staff development and teachers sharing information on lessons that unlock the mysteries of math for struggling students. Math support also was used to help slower learners achieve better results.
Why are other students struggling in math? Aker, a 28-year veteran teacher and co-president of the Gwinnett County Association of Educators, says the math is aggressive and fast, which can intimidate slower learners; teachers are still learning the pitfalls of the curriculum, and they have to cover more ground.
Aker also said parents should be pushing their kids to work harder at home and at school.
Weisu Nugent of Atlanta says the new math curriculum will benefit students if they stick with it and study hard. She says her daughter, an 11th-grader at Druid Hills High, is soaring in accelerated math classes.
“If a child doesn’t have the habit of studying, when you reach a certain age, it gets more difficult,” she said. “It is hard for them to start high school math because when they reach high school, a lot of the kids don’t have a solid foundation. You have to practice every day.”
State officials predict that math final exam scores will climb. The new math curriculum was introduced to sixth-graders in 2005. The Class of 2019 will be the first to have had the accelerated math exposure from kindergarten through 12th grade.