Retakes for Algebra 1 state exam begin next week, surprising many Manatee County students

FINGER POINTING

by: Meghin Delaney|Bradenton Herald

September 12, 2015

Manatee County students who failed the new state-mandated end-of-course exams in Algebra 1 — about 1,300 of them last school year — have the first opportunity next week to re-take the test, a graduation requirement.

But some parents were surprised to discover only last week that their students had failed the test and are scheduled to take it as soon as Monday, leaving little time to study.

The math and English exams administered to students in the spring were based on new Florida State Standards, a modification of the controversial Common Core standards. Teachers and students felt under-prepared for the tests at the time, and it showed in the scores across the state.

In Manatee County, 64 percent of students passed the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam, meaning about 36 percent of students who took the test are slated to retake the test — or take one of the other acceptable state or national tests — to graduate. Across the state, 67 percent of students passed the new

Algebra exam.

In Manatee County, the timing of the retake, coupled with when parents found out their students had failed the test, has raised concerns.

“We didn’t know this summer. My son was not practicing algebra,” said Amy Lee, mother of a 10th-grade student at Palmetto High School.

Lee said she found out her son had failed the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam when she called his math teacher last week to question her son’s schedule for the upcoming year. She wanted to know why he wasn’t promoted in math, and the teacher told her it was because he had been marked as a student who failed the Algebra 1 exam.

“We found out by accident when he was enrolled in another math class,” Lee said.

Her son brought a slip home with him this week from school, saying when and where he was to report on Monday and Tuesday to retake the tests.

According to state officials, districts were notified about students who failed the Algebra 1 exam in June, when the results were released. Sandy Riley-Hawkins, the district’s director of assessment and research, said principals were notified of which students passed or failed the exam immediately after the state’s release of the lists in June. It was left up to the individual principals to choose the best way to notify parents.

Lee was told by school officials that a call went out over the summer, but Lee said she does not remember receiving a call. Such information, she added, should have been sent in writing to parents and families, to ensure they got the information.

Lee and her son were planning to take the PERT exam, which the state allows as a substitute for the end of course exam, later this fall when her son brought home a slip saying he was slated to retake the test next Monday and Tuesday.

“It’s overwhelming and downright cruel to put a student in that position,” she said.

In previous years, the state has released more detailed information on whether the students passed or failed, by how much the students passed or failed and in what areas the students performed well or poorly. With new tests this year, which had to be validated by an outside firm, that didn’t happen. The state looked at the percentage of students who failed the test last year and used an equivalent relationship this year to determine how many students passed or failed the algebra exam.

“We don’t know the scores,” Riley-Hawkins said. “We got a ‘yes’ or ‘no.'”

The Algebra 1 exams are available four times throughout the 2015-16 year, according to the state testing exam schedule. Riley-Hawkins said parents and families who wish to either retake the test at a different time of year or want to take one of the other qualifying exams should be able to work that out with individual principals.

“The schools are letting them know of this opportunity to take it again,” she said. “The children have options.”

The new state tests were deemed valid by a third-party firm at the beginning of September.

The state is currently setting the five levels of scores now, also known as cut scores, with level 3 scores and above deemed as passing scores. Once those scores have been set, Riley-Hawkins said the district expects to get more detailed reports on how the students performed on exams.

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