High school students still struggling with Common Core math

High school students who have been learning a more abstract way to add, subtract, multiply, and divide since Common Core standards were implemented in 2010, have shown little gain on standardized tests designed to measure their proficiency in mathematics.

The Smarter Balanced assessment tests, which students have taken online the past three years, reflect curriculum that concentrates on a set of math skills and concepts that is different from what they learned in elementary school, but designed to encourage them to solve real-world problems.

The California Department of Education, which recently released the scores of the new complex, performance-based tests taken by students last spring, said only 32.14 percent of 11th graders statewide met or nearly met the standard for credit-bearing college work in mathematics, down slightly from 33 percent in 2016, but up a 4.56 percentage point from 2015.

“I’m pleased we retained our gains, but we have much more work to do,” said Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of schools, in a press release. “We need to work diligently to narrow achievement gaps and make sure all students continue to make progress. It’s important to remember that these tests are far more rigorous and realistic than the previous paper tests. We are asking more of our students, but for a good reason – so they are better prepared for the world of college and careers.”

The Smarter Balanced tests in mathematics and English language arts are given to all students in grades three through eight, and again in grade 11. About 3.2 million students in California took the tests last spring, as required by federal law.

The tests consist of two parts: a computer adaptive assessment and a performance task. The computer assessment bases follow-up questions on a student’s answers in real time and gives a more accurate picture of progress than the former multiple-choice tests. If a student answers a question correctly, they get a more difficult question. If they answer incorrectly, they get an easier question.

The performance task challenges the student’s ability to apply his or her knowledge and skills to problems in a real-world setting, officials said, with the two parts measuring depth of understanding, writing, research, and problem-solving skills more thoroughly than the previous paper tests.

Torlakson said California State Universities and many community colleges consider high marks on these tests for 11th grade students a reliable sign of readiness for credit bearing college-level work.

How did students in Colusa County schools do?

When it comes to proficiency, local schools had mixed results for the students who will graduate high school this coming June.

Colusa High School: 35.37 percent of students who took the tests last spring as juniors met or exceeded the standards in mathematics; 26.61 percent nearly met the standards; 39.02 percent did not meet the standards. In English, 68.29 percent met or exceeded the standards.

Williams High School: 13.64 percent met or exceeded the standards in mathematics; 25 percent nearly met the standards; 61.36 did not meet the standards. In English, 56.81 percent met or exceeded the standards.

Pierce High School: 17.14 met or exceeded the standards in mathematics; 34.29 nearly met the standards; 48.57 did not meet the standards. In English, 57.69 met or exceeded the standards.

Maxwell High School: 17.39 percent met or exceeded the standards in mathematics; 21.74 percent nearly met the standards; 60.87 percent did not meet the standards. In English, 39.13 percent met or exceeded the standards.

Princeton High School: 14.82 percent met or exceeded the standards in mathematics; 14.81 percent nearly met the standards; 70.37 percent did not meet the standards. In English, 55.55 percent met or exceeded the standards.

School officials see two primary reasons for low math scores among high school juniors: The students did not grow up with Common Core instruction, and the math assessments incorporate subject matter that is either not a requirement for high school graduation or include subject matter not learned until senior year.

Zack Thurman, Maxwell superintendent of schools, said of the 23 high school students that took the Smarter Balanced math tests last spring, less than half had taken Algebra II, a subject needed to pass the tests.

“We still have some work to do to get our scores up,” Thurman said. “We’re trying to get our students motivated to take more math. That way, if they decide later to go to college, then they will be prepared.”