Many Georgia students failed to meet state standards on end-of-course test for new Algebra course

Georgia students performed poorly on the end-of-course test tied to a new, tougher Algebra course, highlighting the challenges resulting from the state’s move to raise academic standards.

A large majority — 63 percent — of students who took the end-of-course test in coordinate Algebra this past spring failed to meet the state standard, according to results released Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Education.

Students in metro Atlanta also had difficulty with the test, which accounted for 20 percent of their grade. Ten of the 15 school districts in the metro area had failure rates above 50 percent, including Clayton County (77.9 percent), Atlanta Public Schools (77 percent) and DeKalb County (74.3 percent).

» INTERACTIVE: See your school's test scores

Scores on end-of-course tests in other subject areas — mathematics II, geometry, ninth-grade literature and composition, American literature and composition, biology, physical science, U.S. history and economics/business/free enterprise — were up in comparison with 2012 scores.

Math scores generally trailed those in other subject areas, but the coordinate Algebra scores stood out, drawing scorn as well as skepticism.

“These scores are unacceptable and are evidence that we have much work to do,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “Our new standards are more rigorous, and these scores give a more accurate picture of whether our students are truly ready for college and careers when they graduate from high school.”

However, Cobb County school board Chairman Randy Scamihorn wondered whether the tests are accurate and fair.

“Is it really a valid test?” he asked. “We have designed tests in the past and had to throw out the results because questions weren’t valid or because of other problems.”

Mike Buck, chief academic officer at the state Department of Education, said the department is “ramping up its efforts to provide our educators with more training on best practices in math instruction.”

“While we are pleased that our students’ performance in most content areas and in most grade levels continues to improve, we recognize that overall math scores tend to trail other content areas,” Buck said. “The content is obviously very rigorous, and students are being asked to apply critical thinking skills to more complex material.”

Georgia is one of 45 states that have embraced a new set of national standards called the Common Core.

Common core has become controversial, with some seeing it as a federal takeover of public education and others viewing it as a necessary step to raising academic standards throughout the country.

Coursework tied to those standards, including the new coordinate Algebra course, was introduced this past fall.

After the fall 2012 semester closed, state education officials warned that end-of-course test results for coordinate Algebra would be bad — partly because the material was new and different to students and partly because it was new and different for teachers. Some districts also warned parents that the new course would be tougher, a move that seems to have muted reaction to the end-of-course scores.

Audrey Greer, a math coordinator for Clayton County Schools, said coordinate Algebra requires students to read through a problem and determine when to apply math skills — a process that requires math mastery and analytical skill.

“This curriculum takes more of an analytical approach,” Greer said, adding that she supports continuing to offer the course, typically taught in eighth and ninth grades.

Pat Kearns, curriculum director for Cherokee County Schools, said teachers and department chairs will meet later this month to discuss the test results.

“We’re going to actually drill down to try to figure out what were the problems, and then we’re going to come up with a remediation plan, an outline for the district,” she said.

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