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What's Behind Alachua County High School Students' Math Assessment Decline?

Data from the improvement plans for each of the listed high schools.
Data from the improvement plans for each of the listed high schools.

Alachua County high school students decreased in pass rates for algebra and geometry assessments from 2018 to 2019, leaving some schools to fall or remain below 50% for each area.

The percentage of district students who passed the end-of-course exams (EOCs) dropped 15% in geometry and 4% in algebra, according to school improvement plans listed on the county school board’s meeting agenda Tuesday night.

The disappointing results are the result of problems inside and outside of classrooms, according to school board members and high school administrators.

“We’re concerned,” board member Tina Certain said after the meeting. “It starts at the earlier levels of elementary and middle schools so we can build foundational skills.”

The lower scores were due to reasons such as poor attendance, lack of healthy lifestyles, lack of motivation from students, limited access to technology and more, according to varying high school improvement plans submitted after the results became known.

The percentage of district students who passed the algebra assessment dropped from 60% to 56% since last year, according to data from the improvement plans.

For the geometry assessment, the district dropped from 63% to 48%.

State scores overall saw no significant changes in geometry and algebra – from 56% to 57% in geometry and 62% to 61% in algebra – according to the improvement plans.

The school board discussed the improvement plans for only a few minutes Tuesday before moving on to the next agenda item.

Certain told WUFT News she finds the scores disheartening. She said the decrease stems from factors such as students lacking the proper background in algebra and other foundational education to do well.

Some schools fell below 50% for 2019 in varying circumstances: Eastside High and Gainesville High dropped below that percentage for geometry and were already below it in algebra; Hawthorne Middle/High dropped below for both; Newberry High was already below for both.

“It’s a heavy lift for sure,” said Jennifer L. Wise, the district’s executive director of kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum. “It’s not a data point we’re proud of.”

The scores represent a larger, ongoing problem with an achievement gaps between black and white students, said Anne Koterba, a member of the Alachua County Education Task Force.

“The scores were unsuccessful this year, but they’ve always been unsuccessful,” Koterba said.

Students taking advanced courses in middle school may take the EOCs before entering high school, said Jackie Johnson, the district’s spokeswoman. This can cause an underrepresentation of a high school’s students who passed the exams prior to that year.

“The kids who haven’t taken it yet are going to be your lower performers,” Johnson said. “However, what we then have to do is work intensively with those kids.”

Eastside administrators wrote in their improvement plans that the “most advanced students take and pass the Algebra EOC in middle school and are not included in this data set.”

Hawthorne High School administrators said “greater support is needed,” while Loften High School administration in Gainesville contribute class sizes to the drop of scores.

Howard Bishop Middle School in Gainesville rose from 91% to 94% pass rate for algebra and was at 100% for geometry in 2019, according to its improvement plan.

Some officials believe as the push to test kids at younger ages ensues, middle schoolers are generally scoring well on the algebra and geometry, while high schoolers are falling behind.

District officials said they want to further push its online resources, professional development programs and extended learning opportunities for students to pass the assessments in 2020.

“It’s just finding the time and space to get us caught up,” Wise said.

Dana is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.