Students fare better on most end-of-course tests, but not Math II

Georgia students are still struggling on tests of their math skills — with nearly half failing the Math II test, data released Tuesday shows.

About 740,000 high school students took one or more of the increasingly important end-of-course tests this spring. For the Class of 2014-2015, those tests count as 20 percent of their course grades and replace the Georgia High School Graduation Tests as the gateway to a diploma.

Students were tested in nine subject areas. Two were new — algebra and geometry — and were created as alternatives to the controversial, integrated Math I and Math II, which combine three disciplines, such as geometry, algebra and statistics, in a single course.

In tests on six of the other seven subjects, the passing rate went up.

The biggest improvement — a 5-point increase in the passing rate — was reported on the end-of-course test for economics/business/free enterprise, according to the Georgia Department of Education. Seventy-seven percent of students met or exceeded standards on that test, meaning they passed.

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The passing rate on the Math I end-of-course test also improved, by 4 percentage points. Still, 35 percent — or more than one out of three — failed.

Results were even bleaker on the test for the more advanced Math II course. Forty-six percent failed, compared with 45 percent last year.

"We've known for some time that integrated math wasn't working for all students," state School Superintendent John Barge said Tuesday.

"These test results show that. As we move to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, students will get the high-level skills in algebra and geometry necessary to be successful in college and careers," he said. "These standards will be taught in a similar manner as 46 other states."

At Barge's urging, school systems were given the option last year of scrapping integrated math for the more traditional, one discipline-at-a-time math, or offering a combination of both. This followed persistent complaints from parents and lawmakers that many students were struggling and failing.

Cobb County parent Chris Millett said students aren't mastering the arithmetic skills that they need to succeed.

"I think it's more than disappointing," said Millett, who started Academic Excellence in Mathematics, a tutoring service, 10 years ago after seeing so many young people struggling in math.

"I believe the integration math has hurt because of the variety of topics they're covering in a short period of time," he said. "They don't have time to master a specific topic before they move on to the next topic."

Barb Bowman, a DeKalb mother of four, said she's spent thousands of dollars to hire outside math tutors to help her children.

"In the last six years, they keep changing the curriculum," she said. "Whether it's the state board or the county board, nobody is on the same page."

Bowman said Tuesday that integrated math is "absolutely awful," and the textbooks are so bad that teachers are resorting to pulling worksheets off the Internet.

Among students who took the end-of-course test for the traditional algebra class, the failure rate was 37 percent. On the geometry test, it was 26 percent.

In history, which nationally has been another tough subject for high schools, the failure rate was 32 percent. That was better than last year's 34 percent.

Barge said he was encouraged to see higher passing rates in the majority of the tests.

"End-of-course tests are more rigorous than the Georgia High School Graduation Tests, so increases are further testament to the great job our teachers are doing delivering the Georgia Performance Standards to students in a way that they are grasping," he said.

Beginning in the school year that starts next month, end-of-course tests will be used as a factor of high school success on the new College and Career Ready Performance Index. That index will replace adequate yearly progress, which was the benchmark of a school's success under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

System-level results are set to be released by July 17, and school-level data is expected to follow no later than July 31.

Staff writer Daarel Burnette II contributed to this article.

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