Do figures add up? Administrators, parents at odds over algebra grades
School officials say an analysis of eighth-grade student grades shows they weren't hurt by the "pilot" use of a controversial algebra textbook, but parents battling officials for months over the book claim the numbers don't add up.
A report distributed last week by Margaret Boice, director of secondary education, states that throughout the College Preparatory Mathematics pilot program, students' marks and exam grades remained constant when compared to prior years.
A group of parents opposed to the use of CPM, who have taken their battle over how the book was chosen to the state Board of Education, say that local school officials' analysis of student performance is lacking.
All Algebra 1 classes in Fairfield were taught using the textbook last fall, although it was not formally approved for use by the Board of Education. The school board, after months of controversy, decided a few weeks ago not to use the CPM book in the next academic year.
"We do not believe an analysis of the student grades alone provides us with a clear understanding as to whether our students have acquired the algebra skills necessary to form a successful mathematics foundation," Dawn Llewellyn, one of the five parents who complained to state education officials, said.
A state Board of Education hearing on their complaint is scheduled for July.
Llewellyn said they would like a better understanding of the random sample used, among other things, "in order to property assess the date presented in the district's report." There is even a website set up by parents devoted to issue: www.fairfieldmathadvocates.com.
However, another group -- eighth-grade math teachers -- say the success of the pilot program could have been even greater if not for negative feedback from parents, a "noticeable trickledown effect" with students whose parents were critical of the book and were fueled by false misconceptions.
Those issues, the teachers said in a letter distributed by the schools' administration to local media, "have hindered our optimal success" with CPM. "Clearly, not all of our students met with failure," the teachers said. "Many were in fact quite successful."
The teachers said they were "disappointed and frustrated with the consistent negative feedback from some of the parents of the community. ... A noticeable trickledown effect occurred with the students of these negative parents."
Llewellyn said parents want to know why random sampling was used rather than the entire Alegbra 1 population for the performance assessment, but Boice said the data on grades reflects performance by all students enrolled in Algebra 1 in eighth grade or Algebra 12, as the course is known as the high schools.
According to the administrators' study, 44 percent of eighth graders received an "A" in the first quarter in 2011-12, while 53 percent received an "A" in 2012-13 using the CMP text. Forty-two percent of students received a "B" in 2011-12. compared to 40 percent in the just-ended academic year. Six percent received a "C" this year using CPM, compared to 13 percent the previous year, and no students this year received a "D" or "F" in the course, while in 2011-12, 1 percent received a "D" and none failed.
By the third quarter, 50 percent were receiving an "A" using CPM, compared to 45 percent the previous school year. No one received a failing grade in the third quarter in 2012-13 compared to 1 percent getting an "F" in 2011-12.
In both this school year and last, 30 percent of students taking the course at the high school level got an "A" in the first quarter. The percentage of students receiving a "B" went from 32 percent last year to 35 percent in the just-ended year. The study says 19 percent received a "C" in the first quarter of 2012-13 versus 22 percent in 2011-12. Both years, 9 percent of students received a "D," while 3 percent got an "F" in this year and 7 percent failed last year.
For high school students in the third quarter, it was again 30 percent receiving an "A" in both years, and the percentages receiving a "B" duplicated the first quarter results. Those achieving a "C" equaled 19 percent in both years, while those getting a "D" was at 15 percent this year compared to 8 percent last year. The number of students failing the course in the third quarter was 3 percent this year versus 11 percent last year.
But Llewellyn said since some of the students' work was graded as a group in the CPM pilot, the parent group wants to know what percentage of each grade could be attributable to group work. "In other words, could one or two students per group influence the other students' grades in a positive way?" she asked.
Llewellyn said the school district should be using a "nationally recognized" Algebra 1 standardized test to "properly benchmark and assess student outcomes."
"To my knowledge," Boice said, "Fairfield has never used a standardized test to measure student mastery of Algebra 1." She said the district uses a variety of assessment tools to determine student mastery of content and skills including "formative assessments in the classroom, summative assessments constructed by the teacher as well as common exams."
Boice said the teachers are "very capable of monitoring and assessing student progress and achievement."
"This year, our teachers have stated numerous times that their current algebra students are as prepared or even better prepared than our past students for the rigors of future secondary mathematics courses," Boice said.
Llewellyn said grades students received "are too subjective of a measure to be statistically accurate. There is too much anecdotal evidence to state otherwise."
Part of the study also included surveying parents and students regarding the use of tutors for the current school year, as opposed to the previous school year.
"Parents state that tutoring increased by almost 10 percent," Llewellyn said. "How much did that influence the grade inflation?" She also said no data has been reported on the ninth-grade survey results. Boice, however, said the survey was open to all parents and students enrolled in algebra at both the middle and high schools.
In response to the survey, 14.3 percent of parents said they used a tutor for their child just-ended academic year. For the previous school year, 5.4 percent of parents said they used a tutor. Among students, 7.5 percent said they used a tutor the prior year and 14.1 percent said they used a tutor in the 2012-13 school year. A total of 208 parents responded to the survey, as did 238 students.
However, the report said there is no data on use of tutors in Algebra 1 from previous years and so the claim "that the use of CPM caused more families to hire tutors could not be substantiated. The only conclusion that this data provides is that the rate of tutoring increases from pre-Algebra to Algebra, which is a very typical occurrence."
The school administrators' report concludes that analysis of data provides a picture of how students performed in algebra during the current school year, and suggests they performed as well or better as students in the past. "Therefore, the assertion that students were negatively affected could not be supported," the analysis states.
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