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November 05, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, November 05, 2004

Students failing to meet math standards Students failing to meet math standards (November 05, 2004)

Data shows eighth graders not ready for high school

By Julie O'Shea

A week before a state report called the slow achievement growth of California's K-12 students "unacceptable," Mountain View-Whisman administrators were already grappling over new data showing an increasing number of eighth graders are failing to meet state math standards.

The number of eighth-grade students scoring "below basic" on the math portion of the state's 2004 STAR test, which covers algebra, rose to 23 percent, an 11-point jump from last year. Mountain View-Whisman's percentage of students scoring in that range is nine points higher than the county and seven points ahead of the state average.

These numbers "are quite high for our district," Assistant Superintendent Modrite Archibeque said. "This really alarms me, because this is our end product. What's happening with us and algebra?"

Making matters worse, Mountain View-Los Altos high school administrators report that half of incoming freshman are unprepared to pass the ninth-grade math curriculum, which switched from algebra to geometry in the late 1990s. Fifty percent of the freshmen at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools is currently enrolled in algebra, an eighth-grade class by California standards.

"In my mind, those kids are behind the curve," Mountain View High School Principal Pat Hyland said. "There's a whole bunch of money that's been thrown at math programs. ... (Still) our passing rate is abysmal."

This problem has grown so alarming that high school trustees have agreed to set aside about $100,000 -- $50,000 per high school -- to try and figure out how to make students more successful in freshman math.

Brigitte Sarraf, an associate superintendent for the high school district, doesn't place blame anywhere. While she feels math achievement needs to be addressed as early as the first and second grades, Sarraff also said she feels there needs to be additional teacher training that looks at different delivery methods and intervention techniques.

"Clearly it's a joint problem," she said, noting that the high school district intends to unveil a three-year plan to deal with the issue in January or February.

Archibeque said she is working on securing a state grant for Mountain View-Whisman, which could be as much as $1 million, to fund more teacher training and math tutors.

"We are working. We are working really hard," Archibeque said.

But another challenge facing the 4,300-pupil elementary-and-middle-school district is its high number of English Language Learner students. Current figures show that there are 1,947 students -- 200 more than in 2003 -- enrolled in the district who speak a language other than English at home. A disproportionate number of these students are struggling academically.

"It's going to take them time to get there," Archibeque admitted.

But this is not a problem unique to Mountain View nor the state.

"It's all over California and probably all over the United States," Sarraf said. "I don't know why the kids in the United States are so different than kids all over the world, where algebra is started in the third and fourth grades."

Concerns surrounding Mountain View students' math scores surfaced just days before the state Department of Education released its final scores for the Academic Performance Index (API), a ranking that evaluates schools based on how well they do on a series of standardized tests in math and English. (This week's results were virtually the same as preliminary scores released in August and reported in the Voice on Sept. 3.)

Overall, just 48 percent of California schools met their API growth targets for 2004, promoting a sharp response from state education chief Jack O'Connell.

"Frankly, this is unacceptable," O'Connell said in a statement. "I know ... that we can do better. It is time to rededicate ourselves and redouble our efforts at teaching California's rigorous standards."

E-mail Julie O'Shea at

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