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833 wants more time to meet math standard

For the past two years, high school juniors, including those in School District 833, have done poorly on state math tests. Last spring, only 31 percent passed statewide.

Those tests count for a lot more this coming spring, when 11th-graders who don't pass, and fail re-takes in their senior year, won't get a high school diploma.

When district administrators and school board members met with local legislators, Dec. 4, they echoed statewide concerns.

"I think we're heading off a cliff," said Superintendent Tom Nelson. "I'm not sure we can get them there."

In 2005, the Legislature upped the math standards from the previous eighth-grade basic skills math test required for graduation. Failing students had several years to get up to speed and pass the test.

If they fail the new test in 11th grade, there's much less time for students to get help since they aren't told test results until the beginning of their senior year, said Rick Spicuzza, district assistant superintendent for curriculum and assessment, at the meeting with legislators.

The district is currently taking several measures to help students pass math classes. Summer school is offered and class sizes have been lowered. If a student still struggles, they can get individual help, Spicuzza said.

The new standard also requires that all students must take Algebra I in eighth grade and Algebra II in high school. Half of District 833 eighth-graders are taking algebra this year.

Randy Zipf, assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, said, in previous school board workshop meetings, that the district will meet the eighth-grade standard after junior high schools convert to middle schools next year.

Along with curriculum directors from other districts, Spicuzza said he met with Alice Seagren, commissioner of the State of Minnesota Department of Education.

Spicuzza doesn't disagree with the requirements calling for more rigorous math standards but is looking for an interim solution to stave off certain student failure.

"We need to find a happy medium and still have accountability," he said. "To try and force 100 percent is an injustice to students and their families."

The math standard test could still be taken by 11th-graders but the requirement to pass it to graduate should be postponed.

As an incentive to pass the test, a "certificate of honor" or other endorsement, could be attached to a student's diploma, Spicuzza said, until all students get the math instruction they need.

Other suggestions legislators talked about include not requiring the test to graduate for the next two years.

There could be an appeals process or alternative ways to meet the requirement such as scoring well on college entrance exams or earning a passing grade in a similar course.

There could be different levels of required math for those who plan to attend college than for those planning for other careers, as is done in North Dakota.

Passing an end-of-course exam could be substituted for state test as is done in four other states.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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