2+2= Fail; 66 Percent of Students Flunk Algebra I Final

Last spring, 66 percent of RHS students failed the Algebra I final exam. The math department attributes these results to the latest Common Core 2.0 curriculum.

Concern over final exam math scores escalated in 2013 when the county’s 32 percent failure rate became public. Despite parent concern and district initiatives, the rate increased to a 46 percent failure rate across the county on the final 2014 exam.

Some place the blame on the Common Core 2.0. The new curriculum was implemented in MCPS last year in accordance with state law, and teachers were quickly trained to teach it.

“Teachers had three to four day training during the summer a�� it was more about looking at the curriculum objectives than actually teaching it and timing it,” math resource teacher Lindsay Junkins said.

Last year, Common Core 2.0 was introduced to teachers as it was being created and finalized, which made it difficult to plan future lessons. There was then a struggle between teachers and students, as the teachers were unsure of future roll-outs, and students felt rushed.

“Because they don’t have the prerequisite knowledge from math six, seven and eight that they needed for Common Core, some of the standards were difficult, so we had to spend more time on them,” Junkins said.

MCPS quickly decided to offer an intensive two-week refresher course to students who failed and allowed students to retake the exam, free of charge.

“Parents were extremely happy with that and a lot of the students got their questions answered,” Algebra I teacher Brian Adams said. “They got a second chance to take the exam and students did much much better.”

The failure rate is part of a larger issue with the final exam grading policy in general. If an Algebra I student received an “A” for the first semester and a “B” for the second semester, they can pass the class with a “B” if they fail the exam. This leaves little incentive to do well.

The rule that stating that teachers cannot see exam materials before the exam date has also come into question. Some believe that if teachers were able to see the new exam, they could better prepare their students. Principal Billie-Jean Bensen disagrees.

“If teachers saw the actual test, would it make a difference? I would hope not. Teachers should be focused on students understanding the material,” Bensen said. She noted that math exams tend to focus more on application than other subject areas.

Teachers have been saying that they are more comfortable with the new curriculum because it is solidified. New investments were made in teacher training, including the Algebra summit, a collection of practice problems and notes regarding the curriculum.

“What we’re doing at Rockville is using is using the things created for the summit and applying it to what we had last year and our results have been far better,” Adams said.