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"This Is Parkway" Digital Magazine

Mathematics

High School Algebra 1

For the first time in many years, we will no longer offer an Algebra 1B course in Parkway high schools.  Having analyzed two years' worth of student assessment data from the Missouri State End-of-Course Algebra 1 exam, it was clear that students enrolled in Algebra 1B were not meeting minimum state standards, let alone our high expectations in Parkway.  It is imperative that all our students are successful in Algebra 1, both on our Parkway classroom assessments as well as state assessments.

Due to the importance of Algebra 1 for future success in mathematics, college, and career, a team of Algebra 1 teachers from across the district spent substantial time during the 2010-11 school year and summer to create a single Algebra 1 course for all high school students who did not complete Algebra 1 in middle school.  Along with this new course comes vastly improved curriculum, assessments, assessment practices, support structures, and collaborative teams of teachers working to ensure all students are successful.  Every change has been designed to improve the performance of all students in this new Algebra 1 course and equip them to accomplish Parkway's Mission.

Here are a few of the key changes in our high school Algebra 1 course:

  • Clear Goals: How many high school graduates in our country could correctly answer the question: "What is algebra?"  In our experience, it's not many.  What will we do to ensure Parkway graduates are different?  Parkway's first Learning Principle states that we must ensure all students understand the purpose and outcomes of their learning, as well as the standards required for success.  Therefore our Algebra 1 curriculum now has 11 clearly defined student learning goals for the first semester and ten goals for the second semester.  These goals also define levels of proficiency that students can understand use to improve their own learning.
  • Rigorous Common Assessments: Did you ever try to enroll in a particular teacher's class because he or she gave "easy tests?"  To avoid this inequity for students, our Algebra 1 team built rigorous assessments for every algebra learning goal throughout the school year.  And the same assessments will be administered by all Algebra 1 teachers in Parkway, thereby ensuring equity and high standards for all students.
  • Support Systems: Eliminating the Algebra 1B course eliminates lower expectations, but it certainly doesn't cause students to magically become proficient in Algebra 1.  Therefore strong support structures have been put in place at every high school to help students who need additional time and teacher contact outside of the classroom to understand algebra concepts.
  • Multiple Testing Opportunities: How would you feel if you couldn't re-take your state driver's test because the law allowed you to only have one attempt?  Or what if when you took your driver's test a second time your new score was then averaged with your first failing score?  Neither of these scenarios would be fair or reflective of your current, improved driving skills.  Students in Algebra 1 won't experience these scenarios because they may re-take any assessment they did not pass.  During six scheduled assessment windows throughout the semester, students may re-take assessments and have their new score replace their previous score.  In order to re-take an assessment, students will need to simply provide substantial evidence that they have learned the material they didn't understand the first time.
  • Improved Assessment Practices: Each student's Algebra 1 semester grade will be a traditional A, B, or C.  However, the calculation of those letter grades will not use traditional percentages.  Parkway's Learning Principles obligate us to provide students with more useful feedback about their learning as well as tools for self-assessment.  As mathematics educators, we recognize the limitations of averages and percentages for communicating complex information, such as a student's understanding of algebra.  For example, if a student receives a score of 80% on a particular test, that number tells us very little about how to help that student unless we review the test and analyze which items were missed.  In that regard, assigning a percentage on major exams is a form of feedback that cannot be used much by students, teachers, or parents.  Using a different approach, our Algebra 1 tests have been designed so that students will score at one of four levels on each of the 11 standards: Expert, Proficient, Developing, or Novice.  A student's final semester grade will be determined by how many scores on the 11 standards are in each of these four levels.
  • Retaking the Course: Students who do not earn an A, B, or C during the first semester of Algebra 1 will be required to retake the first semester of Algebra 1 again.  This is an additional opportunity for a student to take more time to understand the most foundational high school math course we offer in Parkway.  Success in future math and science courses requires students to deeply understand algebra.