ARIZONA EIGHTH GRADE MATH PERFORMANCE – A MORE COMPLETE PICTURE

By Dr. Ildi Laczko-Kerr and Kelly Powell

This past fall, when the statewide results of the 2016 AzMERIT exam were published, the eighth grade math test pass rate was pegged at 26 percent. Though this figure is true for the students who took the general eighth grade math exam, it does not represent all eighth grade students in Arizona, because many students take advanced math classes and therefore take a different exam.

In the chart below, the percentage of eighth graders who took a high school “end of course” exam, such as Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II instead of the general eighth grade math test are reported.

PERCENTAGE OF EIGHTH GRADE STUDENTS TESTED BY TYPE OF MATH TEST
These data indicate that in 2016, almost one out of every five eighth grade students is accelerated in math and taking a high school end of course math exam. The impact on state reporting is significant: nearly 20 percent of eighth graders’ test results were not accounted for in the reported 26 percent pass rate. Taking all math test results into consideration, the overall math pass rate for eigth graders is actually 36 percent. This represents a 10 percentage point increase from the publicly reported eight grade results, and a 2 percent increase from 2015 when all eighth grade students were required to take the eighth grade math exam.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT ACCELERATED STUDENT PERFORMANCE

The 2016 data show that the majority of advanced math students are accelerated by one course, e.g. Algebra I instead of eighth grade math. Smaller percentages of students are accelerated by two (taking Geometry) or three (Algebra II) courses. However, the average performance of the accelerated students increases significantly the more the students are accelerated. In other words, students who are three times accelerated (taking high school Algebra II in 8th grade) are passing at 92 percent compared to the 78 percent of students accelerated by one course, Algebra I. Students who are accelerated at this rate can certainly be called exceptionally advanced in math and don’t reflect the typical middle school math experience.

PERCENTAGE OF EIGHTH GRADE TESTERS PROFICIENT IN MATH

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Researchers, teachers, education advocates and others agree that eighth grade math is a critical indicator of success in high school and college (as well as in career and life). In fact, 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.

Arguably, improving the percentage of eighth grade students proficient in eighth grade math is its own laudable goal. Even better, having more students pass high school level content (Algebra I and II and Geometry) in middle school would open them up for advanced studies later in school, and prepare them for more training or education beyond high school. In order to monitor Arizona’s progress towards these goals, we should: encourage any programs or initiatives that address early identification and interventions for students struggling in math (no matter the level) and measure and report the math performance of all eighth grade students, no matter the test they take.

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