AUSTIN, Texas—A new University of Texas at Austin research report on algebra education, which examines practices and policies in Texas school districts, will hopefully help better prepare students for new state assessments in 2003-2004.
Among the surprises emerging from the UT Austin Charles A. Dana Center research is the finding that neither choice of textbook nor class scheduling played a significant role in contributing to high student performance. More important to student success were the quality of teacher teamwork and collaboration, the character of the support provided by administrators and the comprehensive nature of the professional development activities available to teachers at the school site.
Also extremely important was the sense of urgency about the examinations created by school leaders and the deeply held belief that all of their students could and should be successful in algebra.
Analysis of 1999 (algebra) end-of-course examination results shows that, as a state, Texas is not ready for the upcoming new state testing program scheduled to begin in academic year 2003¹2004, according to state Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson in his final recommendations for the public school accountability system. In fact, significantly less than one-half of Texas students were able to pass the 1999 and 2000 Texas algebra end-of-course examinations.
Yet, throughout Texas there are schools whose students excel on these examinations. The Dana Center report, Improving Algebra I End-of-Course Exam Scores: Evidence from the Field, examines practices and policies at schools across Texas that had the largest improvements and largest declines in the percentage of students passing the Algebra I EOC exam from 1997 to 1998.
These observations are based on a sample of Texas schools with improving algebra test scores and an average pass rate of nearly 75 percent. Importantly, these successful schools tended to have larger numbers of minority and economically disadvantaged students than did comparison schools with declining test scores and low passage rates.
Key findings from the study include the following:
- Teachers from schools with improving scores on the exam reported that teamwork and collaboration were attributes they worked at developing throughout the school year. The teachers also reported being supported by administrators who provided time for common planning periods during the regular school day and resources throughout the school year.
- Professional development was an integral part of everyday activities in the schools with improving Algebra I EOC exam scores. Teachers at these schools reported they believed that participation in professional development activities directly affected their instructional strategies in their classrooms and ultimately supported improvement on the Algebra I EOC exam.
- Teachers, administrators and students in schools with improving scores on the Algebra I EOC exam reported a shared sense of urgency about the importance of improving algebra instruction and achievement. There was widespread belief that all their students could successfully learn algebra.
- Each state-adopted textbook was used in some low-performing and high-performing schools in this study. Textbook choice had little association with school passing rates; rather, it was the ways in which teachers used textbooks, supplemental resources and technology that partially determined school performance. The choice of a particular method of class scheduling — for example, block scheduling — was uncorrelated with passage rates. More important to student performance was the way in which class time was spent by students and teachers. Students in high-performing schools reported ready access to their teachers and additional algebra sessions through the school day.
The Texas Education Agency posts a variety of information regarding the state accountability system on its Web site. For more about the state assessments, including released Algebra EOC exams, go to: www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment District and campus level TAAS and EOC results may be located using: www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/ Algebra EOC results from the state as a whole may be found at: www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/results/summary/eoc/aaspr00.htm
A link to the complete Dana Center study may be found at: www.tenet.edu/teks/math