The one figure that people kept repeating out of Thursday's Wake County school board economically disadvantaged student performance task force meeting was 35 percent.
As noted in today's article, 35 percent is this year's gain in Algebra I enrollment under the new EVAAS placement guidelines compared to last year's total. There was a 26 percent increase in pre-Algebra enrollment. Overall, the gain for both courses was 30 percent.
"I know this is new for a lot of principals, but I want to really thank all of you for taking on the challenges," said school board member John Tedesco, chairman of the task force at Thursday's meeting. "Because of that we saw measurable gains. You can’t dispute that. A 35 percent increase is impressive."
This year, there are 5,798 seventh-graders enrolled in pre-algebra compared to 4,605 last year. It represents 82 percent of the 7,042 students that EVAAS says were ready for the course.
For Algebra I, there are 4,515 eighth-graders in the course this year compared to 3,357 last year. It's 68 percent of the 6,595 kids identified by EVAAS as being Algebra I ready.
The percentage is likely to go up because a major reason why kids weren't placed in Algebra I is they hadn't taken pre-algebra. This year's increase in pre-algebra will carry over into the future.
Wake's previous percentage of Algebra I ready eighth-graders in the course was slightly more than 50 percent.
Ken Branch, senior director for middle school programs, said the three most common reason kids weren't placed in pre-algebra or Algebra I was because they didn't have the pre-requisite courses, hadn't demonstrated mastery or their parents didn't want them in the course.
An exampe of not demonstraing mastery, he said, would be to have failed the EOG math test.
Branch asked principals to give other reasons.
Brian Pittman, principal of Holly Ridge Middle, said you'll never get 100 percent placement because EVAAS picks up kids who are already taking geometry, which is more advanced than Algebra I. It's likely a small percentage of students districtwide.
Andrew Livengood, principal of East Millbrook Middle School, said he didn't place some kids in pre-algebra who had failed the sixth-grade EOG. He questioned how he could place those kids in a harder class when they were in intervention classes.
David Kershner, principal of Moore Square Middle School, said some kids might not have been placed because they didn't get the EVAAS data until well after the school year started for year-round and modified-calendar schools. The data was given to schools Aug. 12.
Marvin Connelly, assistant superintendent for student support services, brought up the examples of "glitches" in which a student who had failed the EOG for three years in a row and wasn't doing well in class was still recommended for placement by EVAAS. One such case occurred at East Millbrook.
Connelly said that would be an example of using data and not a subjective decision for not placing a student.
Branch shared anecdotes from principals and teachers of benefits, challenges and surprises so far from the new guidelines.
Branch said benefits included students rising to the challenge and showing a more positive attitude toward math. For instance, he said one principal told him a group students cheered when they were told they'd be moved up to a higher math class.
Branch said some schools are seeing greater diversity in the classes but some are not.
Branch said challenges included not getting the data soon enough this year. He said schools were forced to make significant last-minute scheduling changes to adjust placements based on the data from SAS.
Branch said another challenge is providing enough textbooks and workbooks for the larger enrollment. Schools are still waiting to get some workbooks next week.
Branch said some parents are complaining that they feel the pace has gotten slower now that the classes are more heterogeneous.
Branch said other challenges include some of the advanced classes now having larger sizes while the regular classes are smaller and "more noticeably different." Basically the regular math classes are more typically populated by Level I and low Level II students.
Cathy Williams, principal of East Garner Middle, gave the example of how her regular classes have as few as 16 kids now that so many are taking the harder courses. She said the kids in the regular classes are benefiting from more attention.
But Williams said that not having "those good solid (mid Level III) students" in the class have caused those still there to label themselves as "not smart enough" to be in the harder courses. She called it an "unintended consequence" of the new guidelines, which she says she supports.
"We are doing good things for kids but it’s something we need to pay attention to," Williams said of the regular math classes.
Tedesco said the new guidelines could drive some of the students to work harder to join their peers in the harder courses.
Branch said some surprises include kids being in the A/B honor roll for the first time now that they're being challenged. On the flip side, he said some parents have complained they'd rather have their kids getting an A or B in a regular math class than a C in a harder one.
Branch said teachers say they're working harder now that they've got a wider group of students. But he said some teachers are also surprised at how successful the students are in these harder classes.
Branch asked principals at the meeting to also provide feedback.
Livengood said he's "really excited" about the new guidelines. But as a former assistant principal of instruction at a high school, he raised one concern.
While they're "on the right path," Livengood said they need to keep in mind that they could cause some kids "to hit a wall" by taking Algebra I in eighth-grade. In order to take four years of high school math to satisfy colleges, he said students might have to take things like AP Statistics and Calculus. He said that in three or four years they'll need to provide support to kids who could be in over their heads.
Gretta Dula, principal of Ligon Middle School, talked about how one sixth-grader with behavioral problems who had a "D" in math last year was placed in pre-algebra this year under EVAAS. She said the student, who was easily distracted before, is "now plugged in" and getting a B in math.
"When he was with his peers he didn’t want to display it," Dula said. "But now he’s in pre-algebra, he’s raising his hand in class.”
Dalphine Perry, principal of Zebulon Middle School, said she made the decision to place every student recommended by EVAAS even if they hadn't taken the prerequisite courses. She said they provided additional support to those students.
Elaine Hanzer, principal of Wake Forest-Rolesville, talked about how much the culture of the school has changed. She used EVAAS in a pilot program ahead of most Wake middle schools. She said they've gone from only one Algebra I class in 2004 to five classes this year.
"It’s taken away a lot of the stigma of this being the fast team or the slow team," Hanzer said. "Now everyone is on the same path."
Central Office is doing things such as providing additional teacher training and funding for math tutoring programs.
Tedesco wrapped things up by talking about how the new guidelines will have an impact lasting well into the future. He said the new students in these courses will be less likely to be disciplined and more likely to graduate from high school.
“We are going to send thousands of students to high schools smarter,” Tedesco said. “We’re going to have a positive impact on their lives.”