Georgia students struggling to pass math tests

State, schools respond to high school warning bell

standardized testing

High school math tests are getting more rigorous, with Georgia students struggling to pass them.

It’s the main reason high schools saw a drop in their score on the state’s recently released academic report card for schools. In response, school districts and state education leaders are trying a number of options — from trying to boost parent involvement at the high school level to spending more on training and resources so educators are better equipped to teach.

While the overall statewide score for elementary and middle schools on the College and Career-Ready Performance Index for 2012-13 went up from the previous year, high schools saw a decline, from 72.8 to 71.8, for the same time period. The index uses factors such as student test scores and academic progress to give schools a numerical grade of zero to 110.

A more difficult math test emphasizing coordinate algebra —which highlights algebra’s connections to geometry and statistics — is behind high schoolers scoring lower on tests, which significantly contributed to the index drop, state education officials say.

“This is the first year, test-wise, we saw a pretty large decrease,” said Matt Cardoza, chief spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education. “The coordinate algebra was something new, and you saw it impact the math EOCT (the state-mandated End of Course Tests), which impacted the CCRPI scores for 2012-13.”

In fact, state standardized tests are expected to only get tougher as Georgia phases in a new testing system by next school year – a change likely to hurt future CCRPI scores at all grade levels, state education officials say.

In DeKalb County, where the high school score slipped from 65.1 to 62, school district leaders are spending $27 million in academic achievement efforts, said Superintendent Michael Thurmond. The district has invested in a new data-based computer program that tracks how students are performing and where they need improvement. In addition,DeKalb is beefing up teacher training, spending more on professional learning for educators.

Thurmond says the district is also trying to improve parent involvement at the high school level, specifically reaching out to parents of students whose second language is English, as well as other students who historically underperform in school.

“We’re helping them better understand the process, the expectations and how they can better assess their children,” Thurmond said.

In Cobb, which saw its high school score drop from 83.2 to 77.4, education officials are also trying to reach out to students whose second language is English as well as those with disabilities, to offer extra support to improve their academic performance.

“We’re trying to look at some innovative models in terms of instruction, on how we’re breaking students into instructional groups so we can attend to their needs a little better, give more individualized attention,” said Amy Krause, chief academic officer for Cobb County schools.

With additional state funds and tax revenue budgeted for the upcoming school year, Cobb also expects to hire more teachers, thus decreasing class sizes and “providing students with more attention across the board, regardless of any kind of classification,” Krause said.

In addition, the district has “identified mathematics as an area of focus” and is working to get its math End of Course Test scores up, Krause said.

Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, who will have two high schoolers in the Cobb County system this fall, said the dip in the high school score — which was the second-largest among the five core metro districts — was disheartening, but notes it’s still higher than the statewide score.

“We have some schools, particularly high schools, that have more challenges,” with more economically-challenged students, Jackson said. “I do think Cobb, although we have an amazing school system, does need to work on some more supports and involvement pieces for some of our high schools.”

Jackson added that parent involvement can wane when students reach high school, which can affect student achievement.

“Often when kids get to high school, parents aren’t as involved simply because the kids are older, and they assume they’re self-sufficient,” Jackson said. “I think we have to intentionally start involving parents more. If we do that and we give more supports for the students, particularly with the lower socio-economic schools … I think those kinds of pieces are going to help bring the scores back up and probably bring our graduation rates up.”

State education officials have recently announced plans to replace current standardized tests with more rigorous assessments by next school year. One goal is providing a more accurate gauge of where Georgia students are academically. They say the state’s low graduation rate and its comparatively low average score on national tests such as the SAT indicate the low threshold for meeting the state’s standard — among the lowest in the nation — wasn’t doing Georgia students any favors.

To deal with the tougher tests, state education officials are offering school districts and teachers expanded resources and training. The new tests are to have fewer multiple-choice questions, and it will be tougher to get a passing score.

Sandi Woodall, mathematics program manager for state DOE, said the state is allocating more than $2 million of its Race to the Top money to offer several workshops in at least seven locations this summer around Georgia for teacher training. Many of the workshops at the Summer Academy are focusing on high school math and helping teachers deal with the more rigorous requirements. About 5,000 educators have signed up for the workshops, nearly half of them math teachers, Woodall said.

“Our teachers want intensive assistance with the content, a deep understanding of the content so they can pass it along to the kids,” Woodall said. “So our focus at each one of those sites, all across the state, is a conceptual understanding of the content at your grade level or in your course.”

School leaders “understand their assessment is going to really be ramped up. And so they want to be sure that they prepare their kids for these ramped up assessments.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution



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