Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's Spring! Time for Middle School Math Placement Recommendations

It's that time of year again, when parents receive recommendations for their child's middle school math placement. As a parent, why should you check the recommendation for your child? The answer is that last year, Wake County placed only about 3 out of 4 students who met the criteria for 7th grade pre-Algebra and 8th grade Algebra I. Several schools, such as East Millbrook and East Garner, followed the new math placement guidelines and recommended that all eligible students be placed in the more challenging class. Many other middle schools didn't do as well. There were literally thousands of ELIGIBLE students in Wake County that were not placed in advanced math.

Middle school Algebra is considered a "gateway" course. It opens a series of doors in high school and later in college. In order to be on track to take honors math classes in high school, it is best to take Algebra in middle school. Many high school honors science classes require honors math. The classes your child takes in middle school determine whether they are recommended for honors classes when they enter high school.

As a parent, you should make sure that your student is getting the opportunities they have earned. Here's what you can do:

You should understand the middle school math placement guidelines. They are available here on the Wake County Public School web site.

Simply stated, the guidelines say the following:

1. Wake County uses software that predicts the likelihood of whether a student will be successful in 8th grade Algebra. This prediction is available NOW for most 5th, 6th and 7th grade students. If the student has more than a 70% probability of success, then the student should be placed in the more advanced class.

2. Not all students have a prediction. A student has to have taken 3 end-of-grade tests in order to have a prediction. Most current 5th graders have already taken four end-of-grade tests, 3rd grade Reading and Math and 4th grade Reading and Math. Some students may not have done well on the end-of grade tests, but do very well in class. Teachers can also recommend that these students take the more advanced class.

As a parent, you have probably never seen the predictions for your student. Until this year, very few school counselors had access to the system that provides the predictions.

EDSTAR Analytics wrote a excellent paper that explains what reports are available and how to understand what the reports mean. The paper is available here.

Page 5 shows a projection report for a student. If the value of the yellow square (the projected or predicted value) is greater than 70, your student should be recommended for an advanced class. The advanced classes are:

6th grade advanced math

7th grade pre-Algebra

8th grade Algebra I

The guidelines state that if a student may not be placed in an advanced class if they have not taken a pre-requisite course. The only one of these three advanced classes that has a specific pre-requisite is 8th grade Algebra I. Most schools require that a student pass pre-Algebra before taking Algebra I. There are exceptions. Some schools allow students to take Algebra I in 8th grade, even though the student did not take pre-Algebra in 7th grade. The school provides additional help for these students. Other schools won't place a student unless they have had pre-Algebra. Keep in mind that if your child did not take pre-Algebra in 7th grade, it will be much more difficult to them to take honors math classes later.

For the other advanced classes, the only pre-requisite is that the student passes the math class they are currently taking. So, if your student was not in advanced 6th grade math, that does not mean they cannot be moved up to pre-Algebra in 7th grade.

I'm very hopeful that the school system will do a better job placing eligible students in advanced math for next year. But it is still a good idea to find out what information was used to decide your child's placement and to make sure that your student is being offered every opportunity they have earned.

Also, EDSTAR Analytics has done a very nice job pulling together information that explains how to advocate for your child. You can access the information here: Advocate for Math Placement

Sunday, October 17, 2010

AP Courses at WCPSS High Schools

Last spring I surveyed of all the courses in WCPSS High Schools. This is the list of AP courses offered in the course catalog used for registration for this year. I apologize for the poor formatting. I do not understand why WCPSS reported fewer AP classes to the Student Assignment Committee during the program equity discussion. Here is a link to the handout from the committee meeting.

Last year Enloe students took 26 different AP exams and this year are scheduled to take 29 different exams. Both exam schedules are on-line.

(Update) I sent this list to Dr Hargens today and she said the high school team was aware that the information presented at the meeting was not accurate and that they were in the process of updating the information. It sounds like there was an issue merging the data from the different schools. An update should be available shortly.

AP CourseApex   Athens BroughtCary   Enloe  F-V    Garner Grn Hp  Holly SpKnight Leesvl MillbrkMid Crk Pan Crk SandersSE Ral  Wake FstWakefld
English IIIxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
English IVxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Latin Virgilxxxxxxx
Spanish Lang xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Spanish Lit xxxxxxxxxx
Calculus ABxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Calculus BCxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Calculus IIIx
Diff Equatnsxx
Art - Drawingxxxxxxxx
Art Historyxxxx
Music Theoryxxxxxxxxxxxx
Visual Art 2dxxxxxxx
Visual Art 3dxxxx
Env Science xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Physics (B)xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Physics(C) xxx
Comparitive Govtxx
European History xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Human Geographyxxxxxxxxx
US Governmentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
US Historyxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
World Historyxxxxxxx
Comp Scixxxx

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Wake County Is Jeopardizing Teachers’ Bonuses

In late August, the US Department of Education awarded Race to the Top funds to 9 states for proposing unique approaches to improving the quality of education. North Carolina’s share is $400 million, with Wake County standing to gain $5-10 million in additional funds.

The Race to the Top requirements are rigid and targeted, making states advance reform in four areas:
  • Prepare students to compete in the global economy
  • Build data systems that measure student growth and success
  • Recruit, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals
  • Turn around the lowest-achieving schools
The North Carolina application addresses the requirements by:
  • Adding additional standards for evaluating teachers and principals
  • Providing financial incentives for educators
  • Changing evaluation of expected student growth from school-level to classroom-level
This post will compare how the state and Wake County evaluate student growth and how this will influence teacher bonuses.

Both student proficiency and growth are measured by standardized tests. Proficiency means that the student has mastered the course material sufficiently to go on to the next grade. No Child Left Behind legislation used student proficiency to determine if a school was successful. But in many cases, students start the school year far below proficiency. They are so far behind that they can not catch up in just one or two years. Race to the Top added another measure for evaluating student success which takes into account the student’s achievement level at the beginning of the school year. The difference in their achievement from year to year is called “growth.”

North Carolina is changing from measuring student growth at a school level to a classroom level. Even though a teacher’s students may start the year so far behind that they cannot catch up in a single year, if the students exceed expected growth based on where they began, the teacher will be rewarded. In addition, North Carolina will offer special bonuses for teachers with high numbers of low achieving students who exceed expected growth. These teachers will be eligible for an extra incentive of $1,500 each year.

US Department of Education guidelines state that all students should be held to the same expectations. Expectations for student growth are explicitly disallowed from using student demographic information (gender, race, economic status) or school characteristics. In North Carolina, the state measurement system complies with the federal guidelines, but Wake County uses a different system.

Wake County uses the Effectiveness Index which adjusts expectations based on both student and school characteristics. Specifically, it lowers the expected academic growth of low income students and students attending high poverty schools. Therefore, teachers of low income students and/or in high poverty schools are measured against a lower expected level of student growth. This is a clear violation of state and federal guidelines and Race to the Top requirements.

Let’s compare the academic growth predictions for two students, John and Mike. John receives Free and Reduced Lunch (F&R) and goes to a school with 65% F&R students. Mike is not F&R and goes to a school with 20 % F&R students.
Both boys score 350 on their 5th grade EOG. The following table shows their predicted scores for the 6th grade EOG from the Effectiveness Index (EI) and the state’s system and their actual score.


5th Grade Math EOG

EI 6th    Grade Prediction

State 6th Grade Prediction

Actual 6th Grade EOG











How will this data be interpreted? The data is used to evaluate education programs as well as the effectiveness of teachers and schools. An administrator would compare John's actual score of 347 to the 345 predicted by the Effectiveness Index and conclude John did better than expected. But his prediction was lowered because of his economic status and lowered again because he goes to a school with a high number of economically disadvantaged students. The Effectiveness Index masks ineffective programs and teachers by setting lower expectations for some students.

The state would compare John's actual 347 to the predicted 353 and conclude he did worse than expected. John did not make expected growth.

Now let's look at Mike. According to the Effectiveness Index, Mike did not meet expectations. Wake County would conclude his teacher was ineffective!

What does this mean for teachers? It means that their school system sets different expectations compared to the state’s expectations. Wake County would commend John’s teacher, but not Mike’s. The state would not reward John's teacher, but would reward Mike’s.
The new teacher bonuses are based only on the state’s measure of expected growth. Why is Wake County jeopardizing teachers’ bonuses by using a different standard?

Also, Wake County has a history of not placing students in appropriate, challenging classes. Students placed below their potential may not achieve expected growth. This means their teachers may not be eligible for bonuses.

John has a history of strong achievement and will have a projection of high growth. If he is not placed in challenging classes and exposed to rigorous course material, he will not have an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities and will not show expected growth even with an outstanding teacher. The tragedy for John is a lack of opportunity that impedes him from reaching his potential. And his teachers? They may not receive a bonus. If John isn’t challenged appropriately, his earlier high achievement will reflect badly on both his middle school and high school teachers.

High school math teachers should review their students’ projections. How many of your Level 4 students met the criteria for advanced math in middle school, but did not take 8th grade algebra? How many of them did not meet growth when they took 9th grade algebra even though they scored Level 4 on the 8th grade EOG?

The Effectiveness Index violates federal and state mandates as well as Race to the Top requirements. It produces inaccurate and misleading results which are inconsistent with the state's results. It incorrectly asseses the effectiveness of school programs and teachers. As long as WCPSS uses the Effectiveness index, principals and teachers will receive conflicting information about the student growth in their classrooms.

The use of the Effectiveness Index should be discontinued immediately. Our teachers and principals deserve to receive the highest quality information possible. Why is Wake County jeopardizing their bonuses?


North Carolina’s Accepted Race to the Top Application

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Requests for Accountability of Wake County Public School System

  • Please make the new math guidelines board policy so we are assured they are followed. Guidelines are merely recommendations made by staff and it is so important that placement isn't dependent on which school your child attends.
  • Please publish the new guidelines on the school system web site so they are easily found by parents.
  • Please notify any parent whose child was predicted to be successful, but not placed. According to the guidelines, there will be a compelling reason documented and that information should be shared with parents.
  • Please publish an annual placement report, similar to those done by EdStar, SAS and the Wake Education Partnership. It is important to show the school system is accountable, the issues of consistency, fairness and bias have been addressed and that progress is being made.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Math Placement and Institutional Racism in Wake County Schools?

For at least the last four years, the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) has been aware there is racial bias in advanced math placement for qualified students. Both EDSTAR Analytics and SAS Institute have documented that race influences placement in Wake County. This awareness resulted in new math placement guidelines that should eliminate bias. However, there seems to be no accountability to ensure the criteria are followed. A very short amount of time remains until students return to classes for the 2010-2011 school year. I would like assurance that WCPSS is complying with the 2010 placement guidelines to assure appropriate placement for all qualified students.

Institutional racism is defined as “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin”. Does the Wake County School System practice systemic bias against students due to their demographic characterization rather than their individual achievement? Or has the school system really changed once they became aware of apparent bias?

Figure 1 shows the percentage of qualified eighth grade students (Level IV on fifth grade  End Of Grade test) placed in Algebra I for the 2006-2007 school year reported by EDSTAR Analytics. Note that 80% of the qualified Hispanic and Black students were denied advanced math placement.

Figure 1

Figure 2 shows the percentage of qualified eighth grade students (EVAAS 70% probability of success) placed in Algebra I for the 2008-2009 school year reported by SAS Institute. Again this shows that nearly 60% of the qualified Hispanic and Black students were denied advanced math placement.

Figure 2

The 2010 placement guidelines state that teacher recommendation or the EVAAS (Education Value Added Assessment System) prediction is used to place students in advanced math classes. EVAAS uses no demographic information in the formulation of its predictions. They are calculated solely on individual student achievement as measured by standardized tests. The WCPSS guideline states that students who have a 70% probability of proficiency should be placed in more advanced classes unless a compelling reason is documented.

To report compliance with the guidelines, the EVAAS Academic Preparedness Report can be run for each school and the number of students predicted to succeed can be compared to the number actually enrolled. This can be done now and the results should be available to the public for each middle school.

Middle school math placement determines math and science placement in high school. Students who take algebra in middle school have the opportunity to take Honors and Advanced Placement math and science courses that other students do not. Placing students who meet the criteria for success into the less advanced middle school math classes results in the schools being responsible for the lower achievement of these students and for the fact that they do not take advanced math and science courses in high school. Schools can no longer scapegoat parental involvement or conditions of poverty. The school system is responsible. If the data show that minority students who meet WCPSS’s own placement guidelines are being kept out of the advanced math track, there is nothing to explain this except institutionalized racism. The school system must report how it is complying with its placement criteria.

The result of institutionalized racism is that minority students cannot compete for class rank because they are not on track to take Honors or Advanced Placement courses, which contribute more quality points to Grade Point Averages (GPAs). They score lower on standardized tests because they have not been taught as much in less advanced classes, yet they take the same tests.

Figure 3

If middle schools place students in compliance with the guidelines, the number of students in pre-Algebra and Algebra I will almost double. Recently, the Wake Education Partnership presented a graph (Figure 3) that shows the percentage of qualified students who were enrolled in Algebra I by middle school based on the EVAAS (Education Value Added Assessment System) prediction for the 2008-2009 school year.

Figure 3 shows that two years ago many qualified students did not have the opportunity to take Algebra I in middle school. It shows that overall some schools did a relatively good job of placement and that others did a fairly poor job. This means that there were still a high number of students who were denied the opportunity to take more rigorous honors classes in high school and were less prepared and less competitive with students that had that opportunity. In 2010 some schools should expect to more than double the number of students in the advanced track if they use EVAAS for placement criteria.

At the last Economically Disadvantaged Student Performance task force meeting the principal of Wake Forest Rolesville Middle School Elaine Hanzer presented her results from the 2009-2010 school year. Ms. Hanzer and her assistant principal Mr. Jacobs moved 50 students into more advanced classes. These students had not been recommended for more advanced placement, but Ms. Hanzer used EVAAS predictions for placement. One of the students who was moved had the highest score on the 7th grade EOG’s, but was still not recommended for the advanced class. Many of the students who were moved to Algebra I had not taken pre-Algebra, so the school provided extra help, filling in the holes created by skipping pre-Algebra. All of these students passed the Algebra EOC (end of course test) and the student who was originally overlooked for Algebra I repeated his success with the highest score in the Algebra I EOC. There are other examples of schools addressing the issue. Last year the principal and staff at West Millbrook Middle School reviewed their students’ EVAAS data and worked diligently to ensure appropriate placement of all eligible students.

Fewer than four weeks exist before students on a traditional calendar return to classes. Most students on a year-round calendar have already returned. After math placement information was sent to WCPSS central office this May, I asked for a report showing by school how well the placement guidelines were being followed. Michael Evans responded, first by telling me my request violated FERPA laws and second that the school system was under no obligation to produce a report that did not already exist. Considering the past history of denying many qualified students placement in advanced classes and the new guidelines put in place this spring, one would think that the school system would want to report how placement has improved this year, especially in contrast to the last several years. By denying my public information request for the report, should I assume that the guidelines are not being followed or worse?

We should require that WCPSS produce yearly reports similar to those created by EDSTAR Analytics, SAS Institute, and the Wake Education Partnership for middle school math placement. The placement decision is critical. The future of many students hinges on appropriate math placement in middle school. And there is very limited time to ensure proper placement before students start the 2010 school year.


Figure 1 data is reformatted from the screen shot below taken from the presentation by Dr. Janet Johnson and Eric Sparks on 6/24/2010 at the Economically Disadvantaged Students Performance Task Force Committee meeting (the entire presentation is available at http://www.edstaranalytics.biz/ under Current Events).

 Figure 2 is reformatted from the graph below: From the Educational Policy Brief: SAS Response to the WCPSS E&R Comparison of SAS EVAAS Results and WCPSS Effectiveness Index Results, downloadable from http://blogs.newsobserver.com/wakeed/sas-and-wakes-achievement-gap

Figure 3: A screen shot from the Wake Education Partnership presentation http://www.wakeedpartnership.org/resources/K100%20presentation.pdf

2010 WCPSS Middle School Math Placement Guidelines

The following two tables were copied from a presentation by Dr Ken Branch to the WCPSS school board.