It was a couple of years ago that I looked at the 1995-98 exams in considerable detail to see why this, already evident, phenomenon was occurring. More generally, why was lower grade mathematics performance in Texas going up sharply while eventual college intending performance was not appearing to reflect that improvement? My involvement was to see if the EoC algebra was, perhaps, too hard or too inappropriate in some other way(s)? It was not. There are things I would do differently but, if all but one eighth grader who took algebra (40% of the eighth graders in that district) - in a district that is over 90% Hispanic and lower end socioeconomically (though not bottom) - could pass the test, something is wrong in the message, not with the messenger.
Our conclusion? Too low of a standard for genuine college intending opportunity, at least for anything with an honest mathematics base. The focus on pass-only, not on improvement across the *range* of student performance, using a standards level with a content-to-time slope that does not point high enough for successful algebra performance, may be politically wise but does not cut it for enough kids. The improvement for those at the very bottom is real, and that is important. But there's more to education than preparing a higher grade of McDonald's worker, and that's about what's happening.
The California standards are *much* better (when fully embraced by the powers-that-be) but a decent EoC Algebra exam still strikes me as a good idea. Dropping it in a few years, because everyone "knows" algebra by then, is (being generous) idealistic. The danger (as in bet the ranch) is that it will be possible to miss every single question that is genuine algebra and still pass the test. That does nothing to put pressure on the lower grades and middle schools to get kids where they ought to be mathematically and *that* is the secret to the end of the effective Separate-but-Equal, still too prevalent in our society. Everyone in my daughter's private school gets there, so with Chandler, so with Mayfield, so with, ..., but the public schools we pass on the way do not, even in my suburban Pasadena.
End_of_course test failed by 55 percent of students in Texas
By KATHY WALT Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN __ More than half of Texas public school students who took first_year algebra last year flunked the end_of_course exam, news that overshadowed gains students made on similar tests in other subjects, education officials announced Thursday.
Results of tests given this spring to middle and high school students showed that overall, only 45 percent of students passed the Algebra I test and that fewer than one in five mastered all the math concepts on the test, according to Texas Education Agency figures.
It was the same passing rate as last year, and as weak as the results are, they are significantly higher than they were when the test was first administered in 1996. That year, only 27 percent of students passed.
The results were even more dismal when broken down by race and ethnicity. While 57 percent of Anglo students passed the math test, only 34 percent of Hispanic students and 27 percent of African_American students passed. Asian students posted the best performance, with 73 percent in that student group passing, according to the TEA.
State education officials track the performance of students by ethnicity, race and income level to make sure that minority and low_income students are not overlooked in public schools. Without tracking student performance by ethnicity and race, experts say, overall passing rates could disguise large groups of failing students.
State Education Commissioner Jim Nelson expressed concern over the algebra scores.
"Being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide isn't going to be enough to make it in the real world," Nelson said. "Our students need to develop the higher_level mathematics skills that can only be developed through rigorous courses like Algebra I."
One factor that Nelson said could be contributing to the poor math test results is the shortage of certified teachers in the subject. ith high_tech industries and investment professions luring teachers away for higher salaries and better benefits packages, he added, school districts are having greater difficulty finding good math teachers.
The test results, however, serve as little more than a barometer for Texas schools because passing the exam is not a requisite for graduation and because all end_of_course exams are being phased out, said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe.
"It still gives us a good gauge," Ratcliffe said. "Pretty soon all this material will be on the tests that determine graduation. I hope schools pay serious attention to the tests, and I think they do."
By 2005, end_of_course exams will be eliminated. That year, high school students will have to pass a new exit test that will include algebra, geometry and other subjects currently not tested. While performance on the algebra test was weak, Texas public school students posted much higher passing rates in other subject areas:
ÃÂ· 81 percent of students passed end_of_course exams in biology, a 4 percentage point improvement over 1999. When broken down by student groups, 91 percent of Anglos passed the biology exam, as did 70 percent of African_Americans and 69 percent of Hispanics.
ÃÂ· In second_year English, 85 percent of Anglos passed, as did 72 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of African_Americans, for an overall passing rate of 78 percent, another 4 percentage point gain over the previous year.
ÃÂ· 73 percent passed U.S. history end_of_course tests, up from 71 percent in 1999. When broken down by student group, 84 percent of Anglo students passed that exam, as did 59 percent of African_American students and 58 percent of Hispanic students.
"Overall, I am pleased with the progress Texas students are making, but we certainly still have work to do, especially in the area of algebra," Nelson said.
The tests are administered near the end of the instructional period for each subject, and most students take them in the spring.
Ratcliffe, the TEA spokeswoman, said officials are concerned about the algebra results.
"We are really struggling to determine why the algebra scores aren't better," she said. "We went back and did a number of safety checks and analyses to make sure there wasn't anything wrong with the test or its scoring, and there's not."
TEA officials are questioning why algebra scores are not improving as rapidly as scores in other subject areas, Ratcliffe said.
Among the possible explanations, she said, is that there is no downside to students if they fail.
"We know in the past that when a test doesn't count, students don't take it as seriously," she said. "And in most cases, the scores on this test aren't used when teachers calculate course grades."
Sample questions The following questions are taken from the end-of-course examination given to Texas public school students last spring. The complete exam and answer key can be found on the Texas Education Association Web site: www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/release.htm.
1. What is the value of x in the following equation? 3x + 2(4x-1)-9=0 F. -2 G. -1 H. 0 J. 1 K. 2
2. A truck is carrying 1,500 pounds of cargo that occupies 138 cubic feet of space. A television weighs 50 pounds and occupies a space of 4 cubic feet. A microwave oven weighs 30 pounds and occupies a space of 3 cubic feet. Which system of equations can be used to find the total number of televisions, t, and microwaves, m, that are in the truck? F. 4t + 3 m = 1,500 50t + 30m = 138 G. 50t + 4m = 1,500 30t + 3m = 138 H. 50t + 30m = 1,500 4t + 3m = 138 J. 50 + 4t = 1,500 30 + 3m = 138 K. 50t -30m = 1500 4 t -3m = 138
3. The number of pieces of mail processed by a machine in the post office is directly proportional to the number of minutes that the machine runs. The machine processes 2,700 pieces of mail in 60 minutes of continuous running. How many pieces of mail would the machine process in 25 minutes of continuous running? A. 108 B. 675 C. 900 D. 1,125 E. 1,500 Answers: J, H, D