The message coming from Thursday's Wake County school board economically disadvantaged student performance task force meeting is to accept nothing less than 100 percent placement of qualified middle school students in Algebra I.
As noted in today's article, staff said that 85.2 percent of eighth graders projected by EVAAS to be ready to take Algebra I have already been placed for the 2011-12 school year, up from 61.1 percent last year.
Central Office will work with the middle schools to get that placement rate as close as they can to 100 percent before traditional-calendar schools start next week.
“We’ve got to turn this ship on a dime because students need to be in the right math classes this year," said Marvin Connelly, assistant superintendent for student support services.
Click here for the math handouts from the task force meeting. You'll see that there is school-by-school placement data, which school board vice chairman John Tedesco told task force members will allow Wake to single out which schools are doing well and which ones they have to "get into gear."
Tedesco also explained they need a board policy on middle school math placement because there's been "too much flexibility" at the individual school level.
During the presentation, it was pointed out how the percentage of students projected by EVAAS to be ready to take pre-algebra in seventh grade and Algebra I in eighth grade had shot up overall and among different subgroups.
For instance, the percentage of academically ready low-income students who've been placed for 2011-12 in Algebra or pre-algebra is now at 80 percent, up from 57 percent the prior year. It's also above 80 percent for black and Hispanic students.
Far more middle school students are taking Algebra I and pre-algebra than two years ago.
During a Q&A, task force member Marvin Pittman asked what support was being given to students who've been placed. Connelly replied they had repurposed additional funding to schools to provide support to students.
Connelly also brought up how what happened with students who were identified as being ready for Algebra I but weren't placed because they hadn't taken pre-algebra. After taking pre-algebra, he said those students were given the opportunity to go to summer school to take Algebra I.
Connelly said all 80 students in the first group passed Algebra I while 77 of 78 students passed in the second group. It reinforced a point that Tedesco made throughout the meeting that the students identified by EVAAS are capable of doing the work and just need to be given a chance.
Task force member Jason Langberg asked if there's in something being done to see why EVAAS identified students aren't being placed. Staff said a comprehensive audit of all the middle schools is underway.
Tedesco pointed back to the report on eight schools which showed that teacher judgment was the top reason why students weren't placed. He said that's why the new board policy will only allow professional judgment to be used to place up a student and not down.
Langberg agreed that "it was great progress."
Pittman and fellow task force member Janet Johnson both raised the concern about middle schools moving Algebra from being the gatekeeper grade in eighth grade to seventh grade to get around the new policy.
One of the task force members said they need to communicate that the new students taking Algebra I are qualified and capable so as to avoid a run of students trying to take the course in seventh grade.
Jennifer Mansfield, a task force member and school board candidate, said some schools are already changing the gateway to take Algebra I in seventh grade. She cited Ligon Middle School, where she said students were contacted with the offer to take Algebra I in seventh grade based on their test scores.
Mansfield said she's concerned that the magnet schools will be pushing hard to get students to take Algebra I in seventh grade, putting students in non-magnet schools at a disadvantage.
"Some schools are making their own rules," Mansfield said. "I’m not saying some of those kids don’t deserved to be moved up. But we need to look it up.”
Tedesco agreed they need to monitor any efforts to change the gateway grade.
Tedesco proceeded to lay out the game plan of what he expects to see happen next.
First, he said schools will work to get more kids placed before the first day of class. Then he said he expects to get a report on the 20th day of classes showing how many students have been placed at each school.
Tedesco said they'll also empower parents with information on why proper math placement is important,
Additionally, Tedesco said he expects staff to ensure that all guidance counselors have access to EVAAS accounts and that counselors, principals and teachers are supported with the professional development they need on the issue.
Pittman said it would also help if the district communicated to parents that the placement efforts won't hurt other students or lower standards. Tedesco agreed.
"The standards aren’t being lowered," Tedesco said. "These kids are capable. They’re being given an opportunity now.”
Janet Howard, a community member, said it would help if Wake communicated to parents that the mistake was made by the district not to have placed these students. Tedesco agreed that would be a good idea too.
The task force then went over the draft policy. Among the suggested revisions were spelling out who can make a recommendation for a lower placement and including language about supporting students.
After the meeting, Tedesco said he wold look at modifying the wording to say that only a parent could make a recommendation for a lower placement. This would close up the possibility that teachers could make them.
Tedesco said the policy will be presented to the full board in September. He pledged to the task force he'd do whatever it would take to get it passed.
Also after the meeting, Tedesco explained to task force members that the EVAAS prediction that a student has at least a 70 percent probability of success means more than what it sounds. He said these students in reality have been shown to have a 94.2 percent success rate on the state exam.