Figuring the value of X might not pose a homework headache for most Clark County School District eighth-graders next year.
A math task force is recommending moving algebra back to high school as a freshman class and lifting the district mandate that now has all students taking algebra by the end of middle school.
The Expert Math Committee, formed in the wake of disastrous test scores on last year’s end-of-semester exams, would reverse policy set in 2002 by former Superintendent Carlos Garcia. With the support of the School Board, Garcia made it a priority to have all students take algebra by the eighth-grade.
Garcia said at the time that algebra would better prepare students for high school and improve district math performance within five years.
Last year, 90.5 percent of students failed district algebra tests, setting off a demand for accountability from parents and education activists. The math committee, created by current Superintendent Walt Rulffes, has decided that eighth-grade might be too early for algebra. Jhone Ebert, assistant superintendent and moderator of the committee, said the change is about “making sure students are ready.”
Eighth-graders, however, still would be given the option of taking pre-algreba and honors algebra courses.
Clark County School Board members accepted the committee’s recommendations for consideration with enthusiasm Thursday night. Board President Mary Beth Scow predicted math scores would “go through the roof,” as she praised the committee’s work.
Rulffes tried to temper expectations. “You mentioned 100 percent improvement in one year,” he said to committee members. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
The committee is looking long term, setting goals to be reached by 2011-2012, when it hopes to see district students achieve an 80 percent pass rate on end-of-semester algebra tests. This year, it hopes for a pass rate of 9 percent to 35 percent on the algebra exam, which will be given at the end of the first semester.
To accomplish those goals, the committee is emphasizing more staff development and better communication on everything from pacing of the curriculum to what to expect on the tests.
Practice tests, which parallel the end-of-semester exams, also will be used. Question 11 on both the practice exam and the real exam, for instance, would ask students to simplify an algebraic expression. Only the numbers or terms would be different.
“These are not supposed to be gotcha questions,” Ebert said. “It’s about making sure you understand.”
While committee membership is mostly district staff, the group also got outside input from William Speer, a professor of math education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Tim Kanold, the president of the National Council for Supervisors of Mathematics.
Kanold said he appreciated the “laser-like focus” of the committee’s specific recommendations for improving instruction.
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.