Wake County increased enrollment among black, Hispanic and low-income students in advanced middle school math courses, but the data suggest that their moves to higher-level classes didn’t last through high school.
In 2010, Wake launched an aggressive effort to get more students into Algebra I in middle school so that they would be taking harder courses in high school, leading to greater success when they went to college. Data presented Monday show that while enrollment went up in middle school, grades dropped and few of the students stayed on the college math track in high school.
“Pushing the kids into Algebra I didn’t have the long-term successes we had hoped,” Darryl Hill, Wake’s director of performance strategy and analytics, told the school board’s student achievement committee Monday.
Hill said the data from the past five years show that additional support for academically marginal students is needed to gain the full benefits of the math acceleration.
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The school district’s recently adopted strategic plan calls for 95 percent of students to graduate from high school prepared for college and career by 2020. The plan also calls for eliminating the predictability of student achievement results by race.
Administrators said they know they should begin working with students at younger ages to get them ready for harder courses.
“We now know the work begins even before middle school,” said Marvin Connelly, Wake’s chief of strategic planning.
The math push began after a 2009 report by SAS found that black and Hispanic middle school students, whom the company’s software indicated had a high probability of passing Algebra I, were being placed in the course at lower rates than other groups.
The SAS report was embraced by the former Republican school board majority and former Superintendent Tony Tata. Middle schools were directed to place students in the advanced math track if the SAS EVAAS program indicated they had at least a 70 percent probability of success.
Democratic school board members questioned whether the cutoff figure was too low, but left the effort in place after regaining the board majority.
Hill said that nearly 100 percent of black and Hispanic middle school students who are identified by SAS as being ready for accelerated math courses are now being enrolled. In 2010, only half of the black and Hispanic students considered ready by SAS were enrolled. A similar increase took place with low-income students.
The adoption of harder Common Core-based state exams in the 2012-13 school year has sharply reduced how many students are considered ready by EVAAS. As a result, Hill said schools are placing more students now who are beneath the 70 percent threshold.
Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School, which has since dropped Rolesville from the name, has often been cited as an example of the success of using EVAAS for math placement. The school adopted the approach in 2008. At one point, 97 percent of students passed the state’s Algebra I end-of-course exams.
But Hill said that of 160 eighth-grade students at the school who took Algebra I, only 21 went on to take calculus in high school, a progression which was the target for the program.
Looking district-wide, Hill said, there was a negative impact on math grades for students placed into accelerated math courses with a 70 to 85 percent probability of success. While nearly all of these students passed Algebra I in eighth-grade and geometry in ninth-grade, very few got an A or B.
“They’re not earning grades that are reflective of acceleration and excelling in the course,” Hill said.
Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, said the low grades contribute to some students’ reluctance to stick with the college math track through high school.
School board member Jim Martin said the findings show a result that he had been warning about for years.
Before making the change, Martin said, the district should have put in place the support structures that critics said would be needed: “If you don’t have a foundation, it’s pretty hard to build,” he said.
Marvin Pittman, an education consultant who works with students in Southeast Raleigh, agreed more support is needed. But he said Wake is moving in the right direction to help students.
“These are bright kids who can do the work,” Pittman, who attended Monday’s meeting, said in an interview. “But their foundation is shaky. They need support before they take these classes.”
Some findings in math report
▪ Acceleration increased share of students in Algebra I in eighth-grade
▪ Grades dropped for students, potentially due to difficulty of courses
▪ Short-term increases in under-represented students but gains dropped over time