# Integrated Algebra, wtf?

June 29, 2008 pm30 10:06 pm

I want to write about the cut score. 30 out of 87 is passing. That’s low.

And I sat on a committee that helped recommend a cut score. But I signed a confidentiality agreement, and neither the State of New York nor the vendor have given a clear response about what is covered and what is not covered by the agreement.

So I will restrict myself to what I know or could have figured out outside of the Measurement Review Committee meetings.

Short version (notes, not sentences):

- State expected higher scores, and was stuck. 30 out of 87 is embarrassingly low, means that a more normal number would have come with a high failure rate (politically unacceptable)
- Integrated Algebra – too many topics. Like a topic each day, every day.
- Integrated Algebra – mediocre/ lousy course. Algebra w/stats and probability? Some set theory? What holds it together? No cohesion.
- Integrated Algebra Standards – for a course? or for graduation? Huge problem. Can’t have the same standards for both, or they fail for both. (exam was way too easy for bright kids – the other side of the coin)
- Performance Standards – should only be content standards in mathematics. Deciding which math to use is hard, real hard. At college, engineering students show up with lots of mathematical skills, and the school teaches them how to decide which equation to use where.

My Recommendations:

- New standards. Algebra? Geometry? Trig? Maybe, maybe, maybe. But definitely a separate and clear list of graduation standards in math. We don’t have those today.
- Performance standards: No. Take them out. Test kids on skills and mathematical content. No more grilling on reading comprehension/vocabulary. That is part of other exams.
- Topics: Reduce the number of “indicators” (individual topics). Fewer, with some depth. Take out probability and statistics.
- In the meantime? Who knows? Keep a low cut score while fixing the mess?

28 Comments
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My recommendation would be to go back to the algrebra, geometry and trionometry that was taught in the 70’s and earlier. Those days, kids really learned what was necessary to pass. And, passing was a real 65 out of 100!

my child, 8th grade just missed by a little to pass. Most kids passed only with the curve..what kind of exam is this for an 8th grader????

I agree!!!!! straight algebra, geom, and trig…skills!!!The way math should be taught. Then, by the time students have mastered a lower level skill, they can build on that skill and advance to the next level of the same topic…and so on…Sorry, the thinkers in the think tank need to get back to the classroom! It’s about taching and learning, not introducing and moving on while students are left to figure it out on their own…they don’t need teachers or schools for that!

I must say that I agree with all of you my colleagues. To establish distinct and rigorous standards for the course and tout this new path as being and providing continuity from the 8th grade math curriculum for which a 55% is the needed score for “proficiency” and conclude with a raw 30/87 or 34.5% is not simply a farce but more to the point very insulting. Further, is what are the far-reaching implications in this precedent? Is this more a political rather than a educational instrument as suggested by jd2718? I fully concur with these findings and shudder at the thought of what will become of algebra students or more importantly course integrity over the long haul. What is really truly being mastered? What is “mastery”?

One thought to consider…given the breadth of the performance indicators, the course could be taught as a 2-year course for level 1 & 2 (below grade level) students, a 3-semester course for level 3 (at grade level) students, and a 1-year course for level 4 students. Several school districts in Westchester are considering or taking this approach. NYC seems to have decided that giving level 1 & 2 students more time to learn the material means that our expectations for them are too low. I guess they believe NYC is Lake Wobegone east…where every student is above average.

Your observations and recommendations are right on. So, can you tell us, are people with decision making power thinking along the same lines? Are we going to see a better, leaner, more sensible algebra course, with an exam to match, any time soon?

It will, of course, be an iterative multi-year process. Several Westchester school districts that are confident in their middle-school math programs are trying a 2-year program for their 1s &2s and a 1-year for their 3s & 4s. The idea of a 3-semester program has been suggested several places but I haven’t heard of anyone adopting it–so far. Administrators seem to have bought into the SED’s original claim that IA is a 1-year program because 7th and 8th grade math positions students in a way that the algebra portion is review with a few extensions/enrichments and the non-algebra topics (esp probability and stats) are the only “really” new topics. So, as long as the standards for 7th and 8th are met, the IA content and exam reflect a commitment to raising the standards of NY mathematics (their belief, not mine).

It’s quite interesting that as the board of ed clebrates middle school math test score improvement, 9th graders have yet to master topics allegedly cover in grades 7 and 8.

pb…

I wonder if the W’chester districts will meet the new 7 and 8 standards. The State forced an awful lot of algebra down there (and down as far as 5th grade). They also said XYZ are in grade 7, and on the test, and W is also in 7, but will be a spring topic and won’t show until the following year.

Ones and twos might get hit really hard, even with two years.

BLCBOB, sharp observation. I will repeat that…

I completely agree that 1s & 2s are the victims in all this, irrespective of which school system they are educated. For the students at or above level, IA in a year is probably “aggressively reasonable.” I personally believe that many at grade level really need a 3-semester version of the class, but the scheduling logistics of a 3-semester IA leaves administrators cold, to say the least.

On the lower end, the complexity increases in districts with mobile (esp. immigrant) populations. In those situations, any assumptions about 7th and 8th grade knowledge are typically misplaced.

On the upper end, several school districts I’m aware of have terminated or curtailed sharply their “accellerated” math programs (taking the Math A regents in 9th grade, typically January, under the old system) which relied on combining either the 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th grade NYS content. Rather than targeting the IA for 8th graders, they are saying that 9th graders taking the IA are doing the equivalent of the old accellerated programs. They no longer see where 2 years worth of content can be combined into a single year.

many districts here on long island are thinking of making the new Algebra1 the 8th grade math course with 8th graders taking the regents. With a raw score of 30 being passing i see why they want to do this but . These students will have the regents behind them so they can get the math credit for graduation they can then go on to take more electives. But what about their math skills??? talk about No child Left behind” this is absurd. Teach our students math!!!

The reaction to the IA scale could (and probably will) lead to all sorts of perverse outcomes…my earlier comments are based entirely on conversations before the scale was released. It would be very conceiveable that administrators, in an effort to “prove” their district is “high-performing,” would make IA an 8th grade course based on a 30 passing. However, that strategy is likely too late for this year for most school systems. So such gamesmanship would likely depend on the tests and scales in August and January…which, if consistent with the June test, would lead to changes for 8th graders entering 8th grade in 2009.

The twist of the knife would, of course, be having the first year’s scale be low then the state, in an effort to save face, ratchets up the scale just in time to zap those 2009-2010 8th graders. Blech, I dislike even the thought of it.

Hopefully, the same school districts that might be tempted to game the system want as many advanced regents diplomas as possible and will automatically channel students into Geometry, then Algebra 2/Trig. Followed by Pre-Calculus, then Calculus. Accellerated students then would take IA in 7th, Geometry in 8th, etc., leaving Senior year for AP Stats (after AP Calc in the junior year). In that case, they have to find a way to combine 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th. What percent of the students can really function at the levels those two tracks (should) require? I don’t know…it would really get down to the specific school system’s populations. And even the best school systems have their small number of level 1s and 2s (and marginal 3s) that are not truly prepared for such pacing.

Math teachers really need to figure these issues out for their populations or the administrators will do whatever is best for the administrations.

Hi. I am a teacher in one of those W’chester schools that spiraled down the curriculum so all 8th graders took the IA in June. 93% passed, which is not applaudable since the passing rate was so low. Does anyone know the research behind WHY districts are so gung ho about spiraling this curriculum? Is it really to allow students in HS more options and to be cited as a high performing school district? Any info. at all would be appreciated. I really need to firmly grasp this…

@sweetdaisyday

There are many districts, esp with parents anxious about college, that seek to advance their students as far ahead as possible. They race to calc, to Calculus BC, to AP Stats. In some cases they race to finish high school early. They want their kids to get what’s on the test, no matter what the test is, and nothing else.

Spiraling helps this process? Yes. So they want it. And the districts deliver. In the less affluent areas, in the cities, in the blue collar suburbs, they may or may not be able to keep up. But if they can’t, there’s an excuse ready, a lump in the throat. There’s guilt in not damaging any real learning the way their richer neighbors can and do.

Only a mile wide? Look around you. And an inch deep. I bet there are districts, maybe even yours, that really want to know if three-quarters of an inch wouldn’t be enough… Maybe their kids could reach calculus in 10th grade by just skimming out the parts of algebra that won’t show on the regents?

And any opposition? Why would anyone oppose this? Purity of math? Teaching for depth and understanding?

A USA Today guest editorial on this topic:

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/07/math-meltdown.html

It’s tough for teachers. The constructivists like spiraling. The back-to-basics people like accelerating. Now that they are not fighting each other, teachers get stuck fighting bad aspects of both.

Speaking of the Scaling of the Tests, there is a set of graphs showing the conversion from raw score to scaled score, here:

http://mathcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/

Thank you, everyone for your thoughtful replies. Here’s another one.. what if the curriculum were thoughtfully spiraled down to the upper elementary grades (3-5) so by the time the students are in Grade 5, they are learning and understanding fractions, decimals and percents, integers and deciphering word problems. Perhaps add an additional 20 minutes per period of block scheduling each day to achieve this goal?

This was a very hard examination. I falied it with a 60! Couldn’t they just give a little more of a curve? This examination was brand new along with the course. New York State had no idea what they were doing!

I take Integrated Algebra, and man is it hard. I’m only in 8th grade! I have a math teacher teaching some whole new until just about everyday when I’m still trying to get what we learned last week!! It is too much. With all the math I need to remember, I can’t focus on my other classes which is really pulling my grade down!

Took a practice Math A Regents Exam. Got a 89 out of 100. It was pretty easy if you know all the basics about algebra.

Is the passing score for the Integrated Algebra regents still 65?

Yes. The part that changes is how many points out of the 87 total points will determine 65. In recent years it has been 30,31 and 32. if my memory serves me.

Thanks for the reply. I’m not in NY, but I have an 8th grade student who will be going to HS in NY and she has to take it in order to move on to Geometry for next year. Our class aligns reasonably well with the sample exams we’ve looked at, but obviously I haven’t been teaching to the test, and among other things, she’s never laid hands on a graphing calculator. But she should be able to get 35 raw points with her eyes shut, so that’s reassuring.