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Partial Credit: Half-way to Solving the Math Problem

A MTA research study

Background:

Students in the 8th and 10th grades have scored poorly on the 1998 and 1999 administrations of the MCAS Mathematics test. Given that students in the Class of 2003 must pass both the English Language Arts and the Mathematics tests in order to receive a diploma, it is essential that educators and policy makers understand the reasons for poor performance on the Mathematics test in order to develop solutions.

Although Massachusetts students perform relatively well in mathematics compared to students in other states as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and other standardized tests, they clearly do not come close to meeting the standards assessed by the MCAS Mathematics test, particularly in Grade 10, where 53% of the test-takers failed the 1999 exam.There are many factors that could contribute to the low test scores. Possibilities that have been suggested include:

  • Problems with the test itself;
  • Inadequacies with the Mathematics Curriculum Framework;
  • Poor student motivation since the test results didn't "count";
  • Improper criteria used for establishing the cut-scores;
  • Teachers not teaching the content assessed by the test; and
  • Inadequate or delayed implementation at the local level.
It has become evident that success on the MCAS requires alignment between the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the local curriculum. This study focuses specifically on the last issue -- mathematics framework implementation at the local level and the specific assistance that the Massachusetts Department of Education has, and in some cases has not, provided to districts and teachers. Other research should be done to determine what other factors, if any, are contributing to the high failure rate.

 

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