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Missing 8th grade advanced math scores skew test results

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Researchers, teachers, education advocates and others agree that eighth grade math is a critical indicator of success in high school and beyond. Governor Doug Ducey identified proficiency in algebra skills by the end of eighth grade as a strategic goal for Arizona to ensure a world-class, 21st century education in his “Education Matters Arizona” initiative.

Eileen Sigmund

Eileen Sigmund

But one in five Arizona eighth-graders is not included in state reported figures of the AzMERIT math exam, a required test for all public school students – district and charter, according to newly released data analysis by the Center for Student Achievement.

2016 test results show 26 percent of Arizona eighth-graders passed the math exam, but nearly 16,000 students taking accelerated math courses were left out of that statistic.

What does that mean?

If your child is taking an accelerated math class in middle school, they should be taking a high school end-of-course exam instead of the eighth grade AzMERIT math test.  Scores from accelerated math students taking those end-of-course exams are not included in results with the rest of their eighth-grade peers.

Ildi Laczko-Kerr

Ildi Laczko-Kerr

Thanks to research conducted by the Center for Student Achievement we do know how these students are performing and the impact on state reporting is significant. Taking all math test results into consideration for students in eighth grade, the overall math pass rate is actually 36 percent. This represents a 10 percentage point increase from the publicly reported eighth grade results, and a 2 percent increase from 2015 when eighth graders were not allowed to take the accelerated math exams.

The lack of transparent data on math acceleration creates big hurdles for policy makers who aim to advance policies that will drive academic excellence. To date, Arizona has only focused on AzMERIT scores of students taking the eighth grade math exam, and excluded accelerated middle school math students taking Algebra I and II and Geometry.

The Arizona Education Progress Meter, which represents key metrics that support a shared vision for world-class education in our state, includes eighth grade math as one of eight indicators by which to measure the health of education in Arizona.  We also know that employers are looking for students with science, technology, engineering and math skills.

What you measure, you can improve.  In order to monitor Arizona’s progress towards the Governor’s goals, we should encourage any programs or initiatives that not only address early identification and interventions for students struggling in math, but also measure and report the math performance of all eighth grade students, no matter the test they take.

— Eileen B Sigmund is President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association and manager of the Center for Student Achievement, a division of the Association. Dr. Ildi Laczko-Kerr is the Chief Academic Officer of both organizations.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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