Maryland joins eight states to devise Algebra II test

April 11, 2007|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,sun reporter

Maryland is one of nine states collaborating to develop an Algebra II test that is intended to set a national standard for what is taught in high schools across the country.

The idea is that students who opt to take the test could demonstrate to colleges that they are ready for higher-level math classes.

"This is a test that [will open] doors for students," said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a Washington-based nonprofit that is working with the states to write the test.

Development of the test is under way, and it is to be offered for the first time next spring. Students are expected to get results within three weeks, quickly enough to provide juniors with an early warning, if they need to retake Algebra II during their senior year.

In effect, the states are trying to narrow the gap between what a college expects its freshmen to know and what they learn in high school.

The nine states all volunteered for the project, hoping to be on the ground floor of developing a test that they expect many more states to use over time.

Maryland invited both college professors and high school teachers to detail what skills should be included on the test - in effect, what an Algebra II course should cover - then gave the consensus opinion to Achieve. Cohen said the states quickly came to agreement on test content.

Nationally, about 30 percent of students have to take remedial classes in college before they can fulfill math requirements. At community colleges, the percentage is much higher. Cohen said many students have no idea before they enroll in college that they weren't prepared well enough in high school.

"I am happy that the state has been involved in this project," said Denny Gulick, a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, College Park. But he cautioned that the test might not be a substitute for the college placement test.

Studies show that students who have taken Algebra II in high school double their chances of getting a degree from a four-year college. The new test will be harder than Maryland's Algebra I High School Assessment, which is expected to be required for graduation in 2009.

The project is part of a national effort, called the American Diploma Project Network, to raise the standards and ensure that what is taught in high school is consistent from Maryland to Missouri or New York to California.

Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed, each state has offered its own test - which has led to widely differing pass rates and questions about whether some states are dumbing down their tests to get higher pass rates.

Some national groups have argued for a federal curriculum and federal testing, as is common in other countries.

But states and local school systems have fought those efforts, believing that decisions about what is taught should be made by local school districts, not by the federal government.

"We see no role for the federal government," Cohen said. "This is a state-led effort to create efficiency among the states. We think it has a better chance of succeeding."

Although not prescribed by the federal government, the new test would be among the first to allow a state-to-state comparison of scores.

The other eight states working on the test are Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

At least half a dozen other states have already expressed interest in offering the test, once it is developed.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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