Math a worry for local schools |

Math a worry for local schools

This year, area students and teachers in middle and high school will be working on math.


State test scores show students in the Nevada Joint Union High School District improved in English, history and science on standardized tests compared with last year, but math scores slipped slightly.

Area students already are doing poorly on the standardized math tests, reflecting a statewide problem.

Despite improvement, the statewide results still “aren’t what the state Department of Education is looking for,” said Ralf Swenson, superintendent of western Nevada County’s only high school district.

“The state target is for all students to score at the proficient level or above,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said in releasing the scores late last week.

But statewide, only 43 percent of California students in grades 2 through 11 scored at those levels for math, according to the STAR results. That’s an 8-point improvement statewide over the past five years, O’Connell said.

Students are ranked as being at the levels of advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic in the areas of English, history, science and math.

In other subjects, area high schoolers improved their scores over 2007 results: In English, to 60 percent scoring proficient or advanced from 57 percent; in history, to 51 percent from 43 percent; and in science, to 55 percent from 52 percent.

Working to improve math

Students generally take the STAR tests in grades 2 through 11, though not all grades are tested for all subjects every year – making reading the data a daunting task.

All ninth, tenth and eleventh-graders take the mathematics test. In the Nevada Union district, nearly 32 percent of students taking the tests scored in the proficient or advanced levels.

That’s down from nearly 33 percent of students in 2007, scores show. (The state doesn’t break out high school scores, making state comparisons difficult at the high school level.)

That slight decrease in local math scores in part reflects the efforts by local educators to address the problem, Swenson said.

More ninth-graders are in algebra classes, Swenson said. As a result more students are taking the algebra STAR test – “which the state wants,” Swenson added – but the test scores will dip as the district expands math testing, he said.

Swenson sees the glass as half-full.

“More kids are being exposed to algebra in the ninth grade instead of general math classes, and that’s what we want,” Swenson said. “The math department really made strides. … I think we will see more and more kids scoring higher as a result.”

Last year, he organized gatherings of college, high school and middle school math teachers to talk about aligning their curricula to better – and sooner – prepare students for higher mathematics. Middle and high school teachers adopted new math books that do a better job of covering the state standards, he said.

“That work from a year ago will help us see growth in math scores,” Swenson added.

In addition, a statewide effort costing an estimated $3 billion is underway to train middle school educators to teach algebra and pre-algebra, Swenson said.

The state Board of Education, at the request of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, last month ordered all eighth-graders to take the algebra test in three years.

Critics have warned that struggling students could opt to drop out if faced with even tougher math requirements.

To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail or call 477-4230.

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