Low math test scores spur re-evaluation

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Ninth-graders have a difficult time with algebra tests, Hollidaysburg Area School District leaders told the school board Wednesday.

The low rate of ninth-graders who passed the algebra Keystone Exam last spring has spurred district educators to re-evaluate the age at which students should learn the subject.

The regular school board meeting was attended by administrators and three members of the public — all school board candidates in November — Thomas McCaffrey, Brandon Burns and Doug Stephens.

High school Assistant Principal Mark Harrington presented data from the spring 2019 algebra Keystone Exams, which are end-of-course exams required by the state Department of Education.

Among all Hollidaysburg Area students who took the algebra test last year, 51 percent scored “proficient” or “advanced.” The statewide figure of students who passed it is slightly less at 48 percent, the district’s data showed.

At Hollidaysburg, eighth-, ninth- and some 10th-graders take algebra.

Students in eighth and 10th grades fared OK, Harrington said.

But Hollidaysburg officials were especially concerned that only a little more than 10 percent of ninth-graders passed the exams. In other words, about 150 ninth-graders did not pass the algebra Keystone Exam, said Harrington.

For now, it’s not necessarily a problem while the Legislature’s moratorium on the use of Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement is in place. But the state will require students to pass the exams starting with the graduating class of 2022.

Harrington emphasized that the state will provide ways for a student’s low score to be forgiven, for example by combining the score with the student’s English and science test scores.

Students undergo three weeks of Keystone testing on those three subjects in the spring, and part of the low algebra scores may be test fatigue, said Hollidaysburg Curriculum Director Francene Endler.

While it doesn’t affect graduation yet, if students fail the test, the state requires them to take a remedial class, which disrupts their schedules. In hopes of improving students’ ability to pass the test, Endler said the district has recently split algebra instruction in to units over the eighth- and ninth-grade years. Some take it in 10th grade instead.

But that hasn’t helped students significantly in passing the test, Endler said. Board member Lois Kaneshiki said she believes parents don’t like that arrangement.

“Parents don’t want their kids taking algebra two years in a row,” she said.

Endler said the district is working on finding just the right age to teach students algebra.

“It’s a struggle,” she said. “And it’s a conversation at every principal meeting, every faculty meeting,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

COMMENTS