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Published in Print: June 20, 2001, as Southern States To Join Forces To Create Algebra Exam

Southern States To Join Forces To Create Algebra Exam

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A coalition of 12 Southern states is launching a joint project to improve algebra instruction and testing in their high schools.

The group, organized by the Southern Regional Education Board, is soliciting proposals from companies and nonprofit organizations to create a series of products that will give the states common test items for their exams and professional-development opportunities for math teachers and the administrators who supervise them.

Jim Watts

"Enough policymakers have asked us often enough: 'What can we do to strengthen our tests, and how can we save costs by working together?'" said Jim Watts, the vice president for state services at the Atlanta-based SREB, which has a total membership of 16 Southern states.

State officials also are especially hungry for high-quality professional development for teachers and principals as the states try to expand the pool of students taking algebra, he added.

The SREB elected to begin with algebra because its states are struggling with pressures to ensure all students pass the subject before graduation, and because its content varies only slightly from state to state, Mr. Watts said.

"High school coursework has a high degree of specificity," he said. "This is probably the best first step in state-sharing in these efforts."

In letters seeking proposals on behalf of the 12 states, the SREB told test developers and professional-development providers that the states were hoping to compile banks of Algebra 1 test items that "would include a large majority of the objectives taught by most states," and to provide a series of summer seminars for teachers and administrators. Proposals are due Aug. 15.

The SREB has already spent $20,000 for an analysis of the 12 states' algebra standards, which confirmed participants' assumptions that the states have common expectations. The overall cost will depend on the extensiveness of the enterprise.

Tests and More

The SREB undertaking is similar to an 8th grade math project unveiled last month by Achieve, a group formed by governors and business executives to promote states' standards-based initiatives. ("Achieve To Produce Math Package For the Middle Grades," May 30, 2001.)

Both ventures have tests at their center. Achieve will produce a common 8th grade math test, which will include many algebraic concepts, to be used as a statewide assessment. The SREB will create an end-of-course test designed to measure whether students have mastered algebra. The test will be given mostly in high schools.

Both designs also will offer resources for teachers to measure students' progress throughout the school year. Achieve will produce actual tests for use throughout middle school math courses, while the SREB will collect a set of test questions teachers could use to assemble their own tests.

And both organizations will have professional-development experiences to aid educators in teaching course content that may be new to them. The SREB work also will prepare programs for principals and other administrators.

Matt Gandal

"The more of us working on this, the better," said Matt Gandal, the vice president of Achieve, which has offices in Cambridge, Mass., and Washington. "Ideally, there will be bridges built between the two efforts, and we'll be working on that over time."

"I don't think they're contradictory," added Mr. Watts of the SREB. "They may end up being complementary."

Next Steps

Of the dozen Southern states working with the SREB on the Algebra 1 project, three—Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina—also are involved in the Achieve project. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia are the other states involved with the SREB.

Participating states may choose to use only some of the services provided under the venture, Mr. Watts said. Eventually, other states outside the SREB could buy into the effort and use its resources.

If the Algebra 1 operation proves successful, the SREB would consider developing similar products for Algebra 2, geometry, and high school science courses, he said.

Vol. 20, Issue 41, Page 9

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