Under new criteria, more take algebra

Middle school classes gain 30%

Staff WriterOctober 1, 2010 

  • Federal education officials confirmed Thursday that they have rejected the Wake County school system's request for $10.3 million for the magnet school program over the next three years.

    No North Carolina school districts were among the 36 winners who will share $100 million in grants this year and potentially up to $300 million over three years. Federal officials aren't saying why Wake's grant wasn't approved, but they will mail to the district today their assessment of the application.

— Enrollment has shot up 30 percent this year in Wake County middle school advanced math classes that are using new selection guidelines designed to rely more on test data and less on teacher judgment.

Data presented Thursday shows that 10,313 middle school students are taking pre-algebra orAlgebra I, an increase of 2,351 students since the last school term.

School administrators gave much of the credit to a SAS program, pushed by the school board majority that swept into office last fall, that is expected to increase minority enrollment in those courses.

"We are going to send thousands of students to high schools smarter," said school board member John Tedesco, chairman of a board task force looking at how to help low-income students. "We're going to have a positive impact on their lives."

Under old selection guidelines that relied more on teacher judgment than test scores, data from the SAS Institute showed that more than half of the qualified black and Hispanic middle school students in Wake were not put in advanced math courses. Taking those courses in middle school would have put them on track for top-flight colleges.

Administrators said there has been a 26 percent gain this year in pre-algebra enrollment and a 35 percent gain in Algebra I enrollment using the SAS EVAAS program. They reported 82 percent of the students identified as beingready by EVAAS are taking pre-algebra in seventh-grade, and 68 percent of the eighth-graders indentified as ready for Algebra I are in that class.

Previously, only slightly more than half of the Wake eighth-graders identified by EVAAS as being ready for Algebra I were enrolled in the course.

Elaine Hanzer, principal of Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School, which had been using the EVAAS program before most other middle schools, said the new guidelines have changed the culture of the school. She said she has gone from havingonly one Algebra I class in 2004 to five this school year.

"It's taken away a lot of the stigma of this being the fast team or the slow team," Hanzer said. "Now everyone is on the same path."

Ligon Middle School Principal Gretta Dula testified that one student with behavioral problems went from having a "D" grade last year in sixth-grade math to a "B" in pre-algebra after EVAAS determined he was ready for a harder class.

"When he was with his peers he didn't want to display it. But now he's in pre-algebra, he's raising his hand in class." Dula said.

Principals raised some issues, though, even as they praised the new guidelines.

Cathy Williams, principal of East Garner Middle School, said students in regular math classes are benefiting from smaller class sizes now that so many are taking advanced math courses. But she said those regular math courses are now largely populated by low-performing students who are labeling themselves as not smart enough to take harder courses.

"We are doing good things for kids, but it's something we need to pay attention to," Williams said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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