10% of high school seniors failed math exam, did not graduate

SEATTLE — Ten percent of all high school seniors in Washington did not get to walk with their graduating class this year because they failed a new state-required math test.

Of the 71,671 seniors, more than 4,100 didn’t pass the test and another 2,700 didn’t even try to take it.

MATHThis was the first year that seniors had to pass either an algebra or geometry test, as well as reading and writing exams, to get a diploma.

“We think it’s a moral issue that schools are failing to educate children. This is a huge number of students that have gone to school day after day, year after year, on the promise that the public school system would educate them,” said Liv Finne with the Washington Policy Center.

Some students had a chance to retake the test in April and will find out in August if they passed.  If not, they will have to go back to school in the fall and take it again, or put together what’s called a collection of evidence.  It’s a portfolio of homework and test results from throughout the year that proves they know the material.

Some parents feel that process isn’t fair.

“You have to give these students the heads up, the support they need to do these things. If you have a student who has everything in place and has a graduating grade point average, you should let them walk with their class and then they can go to summer school,” said Melissa Westbrook with Save Seattle Schools.

The other option is starting a GED program at a local community college in the fall.  Damon Ellingston, who is a college math professor, feels many high school students are falling behind in this subject.

“I started looking at the textbooks and I was pretty shocked at what I saw,” said Ellingston, referring to the style of math taught in Seattle Public Schools called “discovery” or “fuzzy math.”  It uses an inquiry-based approach, and teaches kids how to think about mathematical ideas in groups and estimate answers.

Ellingston said he doesn’t think it works.

“It’s pretty clear those textbooks have gone woefully wrong in the execution. They are not teaching them either math or how to think mathematically. In an attempt to leapfrog the math, they threw the baby out with the bath water, if you will,” said Ellingston.

Seattle Public School is in a review process right now to determine whether to switch the style of math taught to its students.

State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn says right now, only about 20% of schools teach this style vs. traditional math.

The Washington Education Association, which represents teachers in the state, released this statement on the graduation results:

“WEA has long had concerns about high-stakes testing that links test scores to graduation requirements. That’s why we worked hard to ensure that there are alternatives to the test: substituting good SAT scores, creating a portfolio that is representative of the student’s work and capabilities, or being able to retake the tests.

“Our members work closely with their students to provide them the opportunity to learn. That opportunity should include smaller class sizes so the kids get more individual attention; better access to technology; professional development for teachers; and sufficient access to food, health care and social services for those students who need them.

“All this takes money, of course. Unfortunately, our state has not met its constitutional duty to ensure that all kids have access to an amply funded education, as the (state) Supreme Court has directed in the McCleary decision. The court gave the Legislature until 2018 to fully fund basic education in this state. We believe that is a necessary step to guaranteeing that all seniors succeed and graduate on time.”

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2 comments

  • Jon

    Damon, I hope you succeed at your goal of changing the system because, as an employer, I'm here to tell you, whatever we're using…ain't (isn't) working. I have applicants that can't add the totals of their SSI numbers.

    That's scary.

  • pete1427

    The 10% failure indicates either of two things—Either the test is flawed (unlikely),
    or the students are not learning the required concepts.
    Additionally if the students are not learning the concepts is it their fault (the high
    percentage of failures makes that unlikely) or is the course curriculum and
    teaching of those concepts flawed.
    Mathematics is, for all purposes an extension of logic and reasoning. Our
    youth should be capable of using both of those or our future as a nation is
    in very serious trouble.