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Common-Core Algebra: A Barrier to Graduation in New York?

Algebra 1 is a much tougher course under the Common Core State Standards than it was previously in most states, as I wrote in June. Students are being introduced to algebraic concepts earlier in middle school so that by the time they get to Algebra I, they're expected to dive into more complicated coursework.

And in New York, the increased expectations could put more students in peril of not graduating.

The State Board of Regents recently released the 2014-15 scores for its algebra exam—a test students must pass in order to graduate. This was the first year 9th graders had to take the new common-core-aligned Regents exam, and many agree the new test was more difficult than the previous one.

The percentage of students who passed the test dropped precipitously: Just 63 percent of test-takers passed the common-core-aligned exam. That was down from 72 percent who passed the previous year's "Integrated Algebra" test.

Chalkbeat New York reports that things were even worse in New York City, where just 52 percent of students passed the Regents Algebra 1 in 2015, down from 65 percent passing Integrated Algebra in 2014. The decreases were particularly steep among black and Hispanic students. 

The results weren't wholly unexpected: A report from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, which was published this summer, predicted students would have trouble passing the new Regents. It found that many students had struggled to pass the easier Integrated Algebra Regents. "For example, of the roughly 75,500 students who entered high school as the prospective Class of 2014, more than 22,000 flunked the Integrated Algebra Regents on their first attempt," the report says. "Those who failed the first time went on to retake the exam an average of twice more in later years in order to graduate."

A high school principal told the report's authors, "The old algebra exam was at a 7th grade level. The new algebra exam is at a 10th grade level."

The New York Times reports that the Board of Regents "had said they intended to set the grading so the same number of students passed as had before, but that did not happen." Now the state is reconsidering the standard for passing, the paper says.

Common-core implementation has been fraught in New York. Many teachers denounced the speed with which they were expected to shift to the new standards, saying they lacked sufficient training and resources. 


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