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Published in Print: April 11, 2007, as Nine States to Be Partners on Algebra 2 Assessment

Nine States to Be Partners on Algebra 2 Assessment

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Nine states have agreed to share an end-of-course assessment for Algebra 2, officials from Achieve, the education policy group that worked with the states to develop the test, planned to announce this week.

Officials of the Washington-based organization said Ohio has procured an exam on behalf of the group of states—which also includes Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island—from Pearson Educational Management, an assessment company based in Iowa City, Iowa. The collaboration is by far the largest of its kind, and it comes as some policymakers and educators appear to be rekindling the push for national academic standards. ("Panel Report Is Latest Rx for NCLB," Feb. 21, 2007.)

“This is indicative of states’ willingness to come together in setting requirements for students,” Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, said of the venture. Several other states also have expressed interest in joining the coalition and purchasing tests from Pearson, he said, which will be possible under the company’s contract.

The cost was unavailable last week.

“I think what we’re developing here will be the forerunner for a much larger buy-in from other states,” said Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, who worked on the test as the commissioner of education in Kentucky. He predicts that more states will begin using it a year or two after the exam is first administered.

According to Achieve, the tests should be ready for implementation next spring, although not all nine states will start using it right away. Mr. Cohen was not sure which states would be the first to use the tests.

The only other such test-sharing agreement is among four New England states—Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—to write standards and assessments for grades 3-8 as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2005, Achieve launched the American Diploma Project, a coalition—now made up of 29 states—committed to raising high school standards, strengthening curricula and assessments, and better aligning high school expectations with the demands of postsecondary education and work. Because studies have shown that students are more successful in college and work if they have taken Algebra 2, one of the diploma project’s goals has been to add the course to the list of high school graduation requirements and ensure the course is sufficiently challenging by devising an end-of-course exam for the subject.

“If it’s just a course name, there’s a danger the course will get watered down,” Mr. Cohen said, explaining states’ desire to craft and administer a rigorous exam.

‘Reality Check’

While states likely will not require students to earn a specific score on the Algebra 2 test to receive a diploma, he said, the scores will probably be used by institutions of higher education to determine which students need to enroll in remedial classes and which can take credit-bearing courses. Mr. Cohen doubts that colleges will use the test to determine which level of credit-bearing math a student should take.

He noted that the scores could influence a student’s grade and could be used by high school teachers interested in monitoring student progress. And if the test is taken before a student’s senior year, a poor score would highlight the areas the student needs to work on before going to college.

“It’s a reality check to see if they’re ready for college work,” said Stanley G. Jones, Indiana’s commissioner of higher education. In Algebra 2 at the high school level, he said, “students may get an A or B, but that doesn’t always mean they’re ready [for college-level courses].”

Vol. 26, Issue 32, Page 5

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