Eric.ed.gov – Preparation, Placement, Proficiency: Improving Middle Grades Math Performance. Policy and Practice Brief

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Early in 2010, EdSource released a landmark study on middle grades education in California. “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades” looked at the critical 6th- to 8th-grade years in the context of standards-based education. The analysis identified a comprehensive set of practices that differentiated higher from lower schoolwide academic achievement among a sample of 303 middle grades schools. As the authors began that study in 2008, the California State Board of Education passed a controversial motion–subsequently blocked through legal action–to make the state’s Algebra I test the “sole test of record” for grade 8 math for federal accountability purposes. And in the course of conducting the “Gaining Ground” study, the authors observed that schools in their sample differed widely in how they placed students into Algebra I in grade 8. This raised questions requiring a different, more in-depth analysis than they could complete within the scope of the original study. This brief presents highlights and implications from “Improving Middle Grades Math Performance”. That follow-up analysis uses the “Gaining Ground” data to take a more in-depth look at middle grades math practices and policies–in particular, 8th grade mathematics placements. In addition, it uses longitudinal data linking the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in mathematics that students in the original study sample took in grade 7 (in 2008) and grade 8 (in 2009) to analyze their relationship. The authors wanted to know which students in their sample were–or were not–placed in Algebra I in grade 8, and how successful students were as measured by grade 8 CSTs. They asked: (1) How do students’ placements in grade 8 relate to their prior achievement in grade 7?; (2) How does the placement of students into Algebra I in grade 8 vary among schools?; and (3) Does prior achievement matter for students’ test scores in grade 8? In addition, the authors conducted new analyses of the survey responses of the superintendents, principals, and mathematics teachers in “Gaining Ground” study to identify policies and practices that correlate with higher school achievement in grade 8 mathematics, controlling for key school variables and students’ prior test scores. Selected findings from the placement analysis include: (1) Eighth graders’ incoming math preparation varied widely, yet many with low levels of preparedness were placed into a full Algebra I course; (2) Schools serving mostly low-income students placed higher percentages of students into Algebra I than did schools serving mostly middle-income students; (3) The most-prepared students typically took Algebra I in grade 8, and they generally scored “proficient” or higher on the Algebra I CST; (4) Moderately prepared students, if placed in Algebra I, generally did not score “proficient” or higher on the Algebra I CST in 8th grade–though most scored at least “basic”; and (5) The least-prepared students, if placed in Algebra I, generally did not even score at the “basic” level. Thus, placement in Algebra I in grade 8 for the state’s most prepared math students appears to have served them well. And some students score highly on the Algebra I CST despite having relatively low prior-year scores. However, placing all 8th graders into Algebra I, regardless of their preparation, sets up many students to fail. Selected findings on district and school practice include: (1) Districts often leave key aspects of policymaking about student placement to school sites; (2) School sites, in turn, vary in their placement practices–but ensuring wide access to rigorous curricula is the most common goal; and (3) Schools with higher math achievement in grade 8 are intentional in their efforts to ensure curricular coherence and to evaluate student outcomes and instructional needs, other things being equal. [For the related report, “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better. A Large-Scale Study of Middle Grades Practices and Student Outcomes. Initial Research Report”, see ED508673.]

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Troels Gannerup Christensen

Jeg er ansat som lektor hos Læreruddannelsen i Jelling, hvor jeg underviser i matematik, specialiseringsmodulet teknologiforståelse, praktik m.m. Jeg har tidligere været ansat som pædagogisk konsulent i matematik og tysk hos UCL ved Center for Undervisningsmidler (CFU) i Vejle og lærer i udskolingen (7.-9. klasse) på Lyshøjskolen i Kolding. Jeg er ejer af og driver bl.a. hjemmesiderne www.lærklokken.dk og www.iundervisning.dk, ggbkursus.dk og er tidligere fagredaktør på matematik på emu.dk. Jeg går ind for, at læring skal være let tilgængelig og i størst mulig omfang gratis at benytte.

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