Wake seeing enrollment gains in advanced math classes

Staff writerAugust 18, 2011 

— Enrollment in sharply up in Wake County’s advanced middle school math classes with school leaders saying today their goal is to have 100 percent of all academically ready students taking those courses when school opens next week.

New figures presented today show that 89.7 percent of academically ready middle school students are enrolled in either pre-algebra or Algebra I this fall, up from 71.7 percent last school year. Wake has also sharply reduced the gap in placement rates between the various racial and ethnic groups.

In the short term, school administrators said they’d work with the middle schools to increase the placement rates before the first day of school on Aug. 25. In the long term, members of school board task force reviewed today a proposed math placement policy that would set the expectation for all qualified students to be placed.

“We’re getting better but when we say all students, we mean all students,” said Superintendent Tony Tata.

The Republican school board majority that took office in December 2009 has made increasing middle school enrollment in Algebra I one of its major issues. Board members have repeatedly cited a report done in 2009 by the SAS Institute in Cary. The study showed that the majority of black and Hispanic students projected to be ready to take Algebra I in eighth grade were not being placed in the course.

Taking Algebra I in middle school improves a student's chances to take more advanced math classes in high school and be ready to go to college.

School board vice chairman John Tedesco, an outspoken advocate of increasing Algebra I enrollment, said “institutional racism” had been keeping qualified minority and low-income students from taking the courses.

As a result of the increased emphasis, the number of pre-Algebra and Algebra I students has soared, particularly among low-income and minority groups.

For this fall, 93.9 percent of the seventh-graders projected by EVAAS — a computer program from SAS — to be ready to take pre-algebra have been enrolled. That’s up from 81.5 percent from last year.

Additionally, 85.2 percent of eighth-graders projected by EVAAS to be ready for Algebra I have been enrolled, up from 61.1 percent last year.

Among different groups, the percentages of EVAAS-ready students enrolled in pre-algebra or Algebra I for this fall is now up to 82.9 percent of black students, 83.8 percent of Hispanic students and 80.5 percent of low-income students.

The gains were presented as a writer from the Huffington Post, a left-wing web site that’s been critical of the new school board majority, attended today’s meeting.

For the new board policy, it would say that students will be placed in the appropriate math classes based on the EVAAS program. The policy would restrict teachers from using their judgment to not place students in an advanced math class whom the EVAAS program have identified as having a 70 percent probability of success.

A school system survey of eight middle schools found that the top reason that EVAAS-identified students were being excluded from Algebra I were teachers using their professional judgment.

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

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