The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

MCPS Introduces New Initiative; WJ Math Department Responds by Pushing to Improve Algebra II Performance

In a continuing effort to identify the indicators that will prepare students for college, the MCPS Shared Accountability Office (SAO) announced the “Seven Keys to College Readiness.” The Seven Keys is a list of targets collected based on data indicating an association between students who met the seven benchmarks and those who went on to college. At the high school level, SAO has asked schools to focus on having all students complete Algebra II by the 11th grade with a grade of “C” or higher, earn a three or higher on at least one AP exam and gain a score of at least 1650 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT.


SAO data indicates that 46.9 percent of members of the class of 2009 completed with a “C” or higher by the end of 11th grade. The statistic was presented to the faculty during a March 9 staff development training, along with data comparing the rate at which WJ students accomplished each of the Seven Keys to Bethesda Chevy-Chase, Churchill, Whitman and Wootton High Schools.

According to Principal Christopher Garran, the introduction of the Seven Keys has inclined teachers and administrators to reexamine instruction in Algebra II.

“We’re trying to figure out why they published this data, because in my opinion, it does not fit with the trends we’ve been seeing,” said Garran. “This is only data concerning one class. We showed the staff this data because it is information that is out there about WJ and we think that teachers should be aware of it and work to improve it. But you have to wonder why this one indicator is so low and the others are so much higher when they’re all measuring the same skills from the same population.”

Garran cited data compiled by SAO indicating that 79.1 and 78.2 percent of students in the classes of 2007 and 2008 respectively completed Geometry with a grade of “C” or higher by 10th grade. According to Garran, 73 percent of on level Algebra II students and 86 percent of honors students received a grade of “C” or higher in the third marking period of this school year.

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But while Garran and math department resource teacher Sarah Moss question the legitimacy of the data presented concerning Algebra II performance, they both cite Algebra II as an area in need of improvement.

According to Garran, the low statistic can be attributed to a pattern of accelerating students who may not have a strong grasp on prerequisite concepts. Low enrollment in Algebra II and the inclusion of non-diploma bound students participating in the WJ’s Learning Center in the population

from which the data was collected.

“The students are just as bright and they want to do well, but many of them have not had a year of practicing the basic skills and ability to manipulate numbers” said Algebra II teacher Alison Rouleau. “[In high school] it’s not the Algebra II concepts that get in their way; it’s their ability to successfully manipulate numbers.”

For the 2006-2007 school year, Tilden Middle School had Maryland State Assessment (MSA) proficiency rates of 74.8 percent and 74.7 percent for seventh and eighth graders respectively, while North Bethesda Middle School had proficiency rates of 93.5 percent and 83.1 percent. During the same school year, Tilden had 64.1 percent of students completing Algebra I by eighth grade, with North Bethesda at 76.5 percent.

According to Tilden Principal Jennifer Baker, the school is on its way to meeting MCPS’s goal of having 80 percent of middle school students complete Algebra I before high school. Like other middle schools throughout the county, Tilden has forgone the use of math placement tests to determine which class a student will take.

“There are a lot of different factors we take into consideration when determining what class a student is ready for; part of it is a teacher recommendation and part of it is the student’s desire,” said Baker. “We don’t use any one data point to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a kid. We try to reach out to kids and say, ‘Hey, we think you can do this,’ and that’s usually done by counselors or teachers. Sometimes we call up parents and say, ‘We think your child is ready for the next step.’”

Baker cites the Seven Keys as tools middle school teachers can use to communicate with elementary school teachers to ensure that students come in to algebra class with the concepts necessary to be successful.

“There is a progression in math and the [mathematical concepts] do build,” said Baker. “The problems occur when students accelerate and they skip a class and that’s when we need to figure out where a student needs some reinforcement.”

Resource counselor Dennis Reynolds cites this phenomenon as a reason why students may choose to forgo college preparatory math courses included in the Seven Keys trajectory for courses such as Consumer Math, which 122 WJ students are taking this year.

“I think in this community there is always a pressure to be accelerated,” said Reynolds. “I just hope that with the induction of these keys students are not pushed too fast, before they have a firm understanding of the fundamentals. A lack of understanding of the basic concepts is one of the main reasons why students chose to go into a lower level math class.”

To ensure that accelerated students have the prerequisite skills necessary to complete honors Algebra II, Moss and the math department are creating a voluntary one-week summer course designed for incoming honors Algebra II students.

“We are going to focus on the skills needed to prepare students for successful completion of honors Algebra II,” said Moss.

In addition to the course, Moss and her team have been working with math teachers at Tilden and North Bethesda to create a list of Algebra II prerequisites for Algebra I teachers to emphasize.

“I think our cluster, the WJ Cluster, is starting to get things right,” said Baker. “With greater communication among teachers and some concrete topics and steps in place, there will certainly be greater student success. Yes, it will take some work and coordination to get teachers talking and ready to take action in the classroom, but I believe they will be willing.”

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