What's at stake
There is an Algebra I end-of-course exam that freshmen will take in May and which will count toward 30 percent of a student’s grade. The new exams replace the math and science sections of the high school Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which will be phased out. By the 2013-14 school year, incoming high school freshmen will have to pass geometry, algebra I and biology end-of-course exams to graduate.
NAPLES — “Math test” is going to take on a new meaning for Florida high school students.
That’s because Florida high school students will need to pass a new, state-required Algebra I test to graduate.
While that new requirement won’t start until next school year, current students taking Algebra I, which will be the first course in the state subjected to the test, will find that it counts for 30 percent of their grade.
To help students succeed on the test and make it to graduation, the Collier County School District has come up with options to help students pass the test. Which ones will work is anyone’s guess.
The Collier County School Board held its first workshop of the year last week to discuss the Algebra I end-of-course exam that freshmen will take in May and which will count toward 30 percent of a student’s grade.
The change is part of the state’s plan to push higher academic standards and new testing. It’s part of Senate Bill 4, the so-called graduation bill, passed by the Florida Legislature last year.
The reform bill will be phased in during a seven-year period and will usher in new requirements for high school students to take more difficult math and science classes and pass end-of-course exams to earn high school diplomas.
The new exams replace the math and science sections of the high school Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which will be phased out.
The changes won’t affect diplomas at the outset. However, by the 2013-14 school year, incoming high school freshmen will have to pass geometry, algebra I and biology end-of-course exams to graduate. Students also will need to take algebra II, chemistry or physics and one other science course deemed rigorous.
The focus for the School Board members at their recent meeting wasn’t 2013-14, but current freshmen and incoming eighth-graders. The new state requirements for graduation will require students to have a 2.0 grade point average, a Level 3 or higher on the FCAT reading score, or a score of 18 on the FCAT reading. Students also must pass the end-of-course test in algebra.
When told that they would have to pass an end-of-course exam, several students who spoke with the Daily News got wide eyes. While they applaud the end of the FCAT math test, the new test gives them anxiety.
“I think it is a good idea. I can study for a test. You can’t really study for the FCAT,” Golden Gate Middle School eighth-grader Page Santa Fe, 13, said. “The FCAT bores me. It drains my mind of energy. I think it (the test) is a good idea.”
“It’s like dark chocolate. It’s bitter and sweet,” said Golden Gate Middle School seventh-grader Tommy Hernandez, 12. “It’s great that we won’t have the FCAT, but I don’t like that we have to take a test or we fail and we don’t graduate.”
Still, Golden Gate Middle School eighth-grader Page Santa Fe, 13, who will be part of the first class to have to pass the end-of-course exam to graduate, saw some good in it.
“I think it is a good idea. I can study for a test. You can’t really study for the FCAT,” she said. “The FCAT bores me. It drains my mind of energy. I think it (the test) is a good idea.”
The end-of-course algebra I test will be given on computer and will last 160 minutes.
Susan McNally, executive director of secondary programs for the district, said the test is being scheduled for sometime between May 9 and May 26. The test, which covers only algebra concepts, will consist of 35 to 40 multiple choice and 25 to 30 fill-in questions.
This year, the exam will count for 30 percent of the student’s grade. Next year’s freshmen will have to pass the test to earn credit.
McNally said districts with an end-of-course test experience a 25 percent to 30 percent failure rate.
Last year, the district’s students experienced a 10 percent failure rate in algebra I and a 5 percent failure rate in honors algebra, according to McNally. Those figures compare to a 17 percent failure rate in algebra I in 2009 and a 4 percent failure rate in honors algebra I in 2009.
“I am not sure virtual school is the most conducive to helping a student who is failing,” School Board Vice Chairman Roy Terry said. “Florida Virtual School has a tough curriculum.”
“We have been putting a heavy emphasis on the standards and teaching the standards,” schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson said.
Should students have trouble on the end-of-course exams, district officials realized that those students could have challenges in other subjects, which could limit the student’s ability to take electives or participate in a career academy.
This concerned School Board member Barbara Berry, saying she thought the changes would exacerbate the district’s problem of keeping struggling students in school.
The district is exploring several options, including extended learning opportunities for students; creating a “zero hour” at the beginning or end of the school day for interventions; and utilizing Florida Virtual School to make up lost credits.
School Board Vice Chairman Roy Terry questioned using the virtual school to help struggling students.
“I am not sure virtual school is the most conducive to helping a student who is failing,” he said. “Florida Virtual School has a tough curriculum.”
Board member Kathleen Curatolo said she thought struggling students would need the help of a mentoring teacher.
“Florida Virtual School is great, but we have to consider that these students might not fail the course. They would have a problem taking exams. They need a mentoring teacher to guide them,” she said.
The district also is recommending continuing with the regular school day and reducing the number of credits needed to graduate from 26 to 24, which district officials pointed out is the same requirement in Lee County.
Students still could graduate with more credits than the 24, McNally told School Board members, but lowering the credits needed to the state limit would help those students who need remedial work be able to graduate with their peers.
The district also has recommended creating opportunities for students who pass end-of-course exams mid-year and creating semester classes for students who fail — to target specific end-of-course exams.
Those opportunities, district officials warned, will cost money and issues with staff members.
“Principals have difficulty finding staff for the (extended learning opportunities, which are after-school academic help opportunities given to struggling students in the high schools’ freshmen academies) because they have other commitments, other jobs, they coach ... ,” McNally said.
Middle-school student Page said she thought the district needed to ensure teachers reviewed all of the material with students before the exam to help them succeed.
Last year, the district’s students experienced a 10 percent failure rate in algebra I and a 5 percent failure rate in honors algebra. Those figures compare to a 17 percent failure rate in algebra I in 2009 and a 4 percent failure rate in honors algebra I in 2009.
“At my school, we have midterms. Today, we did a review of the stuff we did in the first half of the year. I forgot a lot of stuff, but now that we reviewed it, I feel better (about the test),” she said.
District officials said they hope to get out in front of the problem. School Board Chairwoman Julie Sprague said she is interested in focusing on interventions before students fail.
“We want to be proactive so students will have the opportunity to take electives, to get to that next level,” she said. “We want to focus on the interventions, rather than wait for students to fail before we help them.”
Thompson said the district hopes education officials consider adjusting the exam schedule to allow students to take the algebra I exam at the end of first semester, the end of second semester and at the end of the summer to help give them more opportunities to pass the test.
Florida Department of Education officials said the state has asked Pearson, the education, services and technology company working with the state, for costs associated with adding additional administrators to grade the tests.
However, state officials said, the state doesn’t have passing scores established as of yet, so the state won’t employ additional administrators this summer.