By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
Algebra is the gateway for success in the 21st century, said Linda Baxter, superintendent of educational services for the Westminster School District.
Baxter presented the district’s 2011 California standardized math scores to the Board of Trustees during its Nov. 10 meeting. In particular, the algebra results are conflicting, and they are causing conflict among the board and district staff.
Eighty-one percent of WSD eighth graders took either the algebra or geometry test.
On average, just half of Orange County eighth graders take the algebra test, according to data supplied by the WSD. The district ranks sixth out of 20 OC districts with 37 percent proficiency in algebra, said Baxter.
While a higher percentage of WSD eighth graders take and pass the state’s algebra test compared to the rest of the county, the district’s three middle schools are in “program improvement” for the fifth-straight year based on the 2011 test results.
The state requires that 68.5 percent of middle school students score proficient or above on the state math tests. Though 65 percent of students at Warner Middle School did score proficient or above, less than half of eligible students at Johnson and Stacey middle schools made the cut.
A school can fall into program improvement if it does not raise test scores for two straight years. The school is then required to work with a local education agency for up to five years until scores improve. But once a school shows improvement for two straight years the program improvement tag is removed.
Board Vice-President Mary Mangold believes the district’s emphasis on algebra may hurt more than it helps. Most middle school students in the state take the general test, giving their districts higher overall scores.
“Why are we the only district in the county that makes almost all of our students take the algebra test,” Mangold asked.
But Baxter said California’s standard for eighth graders is algebra and 60 percent of the general math test is based on sixth and seventh-grade standards. An advanced score on the general test equals a “proficient” in eighth-grade standards while a proficient score equals “basic.”
Board clerk Dave Bridgewaters said the district needs to look beyond the test scores and in the classrooms themselves to know how students are doing in algebra. He also asked for a comparison with other Orange County schools.
“The fact of the matter is some students do not test well so look at what students are passing the classes,” he said. “What is our GPA in math and how does that hold up to other districts?”
Superintendent Richard Tauer is forming a committee of administrators and instructors to address the issue.