In a suburban Maryland county known for high-performing schools, 62 percent of students flunked their geometry finals in January, 57 percent failed their Algebra 2 exams and 48 percent earned F’s on the precalculus final, reports the Washington Post.
Montgomery County high schools give the same math exams: For the last five years, results have been poor countywide, though worse at some schools.
Under county policy, students can fail the final but pass the course.
For example, with C’s in each of a semester’s two quarters, an E on the final exam would still result in a C for the course. A student with two B’s going into the final exam needs only a D or better on the test to maintain a B for the course, according to the chart. The exam, worth 25 percent of a course grade, holds sway but can be greatly outmatched by daily classroom performance over time.
“Maybe the teenagers are blowing it off because the district is blowing it off,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies student achievement. “If the district doesn’t take the exams seriously, I don’t understand why they give them.”
Math teachers at Poolesville High school start their list of causes with acceleration of students through math to meet “unrealistic targets.” Too many students don’t fully understand math, the teachers write.
Honors math courses are not substantively different from regular courses (to allow greater upward mobility), and as many students as possible have been placed in honors. The result is that higher-performing students lack sufficient challenge and the small percentage of students not in honors find themselves in classes with no peer role models and a culture of failure.
. . .The ubiquitous use of calculators in the early grades has resulted in students who lack number sense and basic skills and thus struggle to make the leap to algebra.
In all content areas, Montgomery County has undercut students’ motivation to work hard, the Poolesville math teachers charge.
High school students know they can fail the final and pass the course. They can skip assignments and receive the minimum grade of 50 percent. Absenteeism is up because students face no consequences for cutting class.