Staff writers Ty Tagami, Rose French and Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.
Coordinate algebra and analytic geometry sound like course names from a ninth-grader’s nightmares.
State-level end-of-course test results released Wednesday show that, for many Georgia students, those nightmares were all too real.
About 60 percent of those who took the end-of-course test in coordinate algebra this spring failed to meet the state’s standard for content mastery. In analytic geometry, 65 percent failed to meet the standard.
Those subpar results have major significance because the tests accounted for 20 percent of a student’s grade. Bombing on the test — and flunking the class as a result — complicates the path to graduation because Georgia students must get four units of math to earn a diploma.
Coordinate algebra and analytic geometry are not rarely-taken electives attempted by a few high-flying students. The algebra course, first offered in 2012, is replacing the Math I course typically taken by ninth-graders and some advanced eighth-graders. Analytic geometry, introduced last year, is replacing the Math II course usually taken by 10th-graders and advanced ninth-graders.
Some 124,492 students took the coordinate algebra end-of-course test, and 97,659 took the analytic geometry test.
State education officials say the poor math results provide an accurate assessment of the college and career-readiness of students and are a step away from the everything-is-rosy picture painted in years past.
Compared to results from 2013, there were end-of-course test improvements in a range of other academic subjects, including ninth-grade literature, biology, economics, physical science and U.S. history. Wednesday’s results were only the most recent release of student performance data, and more is on the way. District-level end-of-course test results will be released in a couple of weeks, and school-level results are expected by the end of the month.
In Cobb County, Melanie Heineman’s son, Drew Heineman, has now gotten through both coordinate algebra and analytic geometry. But it wasn’t easy, Melanie Heineman said.
Drew needed lots of help from his father, a software designer with an MBA, as he fought his way through coordinate algebra, which he took as an eighth-grader. The next year, his parents got him a tutor as he took analytic geometry.
“We had to get help,” Melanie Heineman said. “And he’s not a struggling math student. He’s an advanced math student.”
Drew’s struggles weren’t made easier by the fact that, because he took the classes so soon after their introduction in the district, he had no textbook.
Heineman said she is happy Cobb’s school district has decided to purchase textbooks for the courses.
In DeKalb County, none of Cheryl Crawford’s triplets, all 10th-graders, took analytic geometry this spring. Each of the girls took advanced classes.
Their friends, however, took analytic geometry.
“All of their friends complained that they didn’t do well,” Crawford said. “They complained the whole time.”
And the girls? “They felt lucky to be in the advanced class,” Crawford said.
State education officials said the relatively new math courses, which incorporate varying amounts of algebra, geometry and statistics, are in line with the new emphasis on critical thinking and written explanation. Previous math courses didn’t do a good enough job of making sure students were prepared for college or careers, they said.
Starting with the upcoming school year, end-of-course tests will be folded into the state’s new standardized test, Georgia Milestones. That test will also require more writing and more critical thinking, state education officials say.
“The analytic geometry and coordinate algebra results give us another look at the new level of increased expectation for student achievement that is coming with Georgia Milestones,” Georgia school superintendent John Barge said. “The expectations to meet standards are significantly increasing so we have a new and more realistic baseline of student performance.”
The weak math results are likely to intensify the debate over “traditional” math, where teachers focus on a single topic, and “integrated math,” where topics like geometry, algebra and statistics are combined in an effort to give students context.
Although previous math courses taught in Georgia also combined various academic topics, the new math courses have drawn strong criticism from those who believe they confuse students and are unfair to teachers who have spent the bulk of their careers teaching math by traditional means.
“A lot of school systems have found that the integrated approach is not working,” said Richard L. Woods, a longtime educator from Irwin County who is running for Georgia superintendent. “I have heard concerns from numerous math teachers from across the state while on the campaign trail.” Woods has argued in his campaign that students and teachers are being short-changed in math instruction.
State education officials said they are not surprised by the weak performance on the math end-of-course tests. In fact, before the first batch of coordinate algebra results were released two years ago, they accurately predicted a drop in the percentage of students who would meet the state’s standard.
They offered that prediction after noting poor initial results from students in other states that had embraced a new set of national academic standards called Common Core and introduced new courses tied to those standards.
Despite the poor math results this spring, Barge said the new standards — and the tougher math courses tied to them — will eventually help Georgia students by offering a more honest view of what they know and what they don’t know.
“While these results seem low and different from what we are used to seeing, they are in line with what many national assessments say Georgia’s students’ college and career readiness level is,” he said. “We must address this head-on so our students leave our schools with the best preparation possible to succeed in life after high school.”