Last year, Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity and his brother Tim Herrity, drew a new topic to my attention: Virginia students’ lack of mathematical skills. Virginia SOL’s seem to show that students are passing the math benchmarks, but my friend Tim, who teaches 9th grade Algebra in Henrico County, finds that this is not reflective of students’ true math skills.
Tim issued a basic skills test to his Algebra I class, and required them to complete it without a calculator. Eighty percent of these students failed this exam proving the students’ inability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. These are skills students should posses prior to entering Algebra I. Since the use of calculators is available during parts of the SOL tests, these results show that students are actually unable to deduce correct answers without the use of calculators.
In response, I teamed up with Pat and Tim to propose HB469 during last session in order to address these problems and give our students the foundations of math. Sometimes you don’t need a new law to make change. Instead of passing this bill into law, we got the Department of Education to to look into the problem and find a solution.
Here is what has happened since:
- The SOL reporting method has been redesigned. Starting in the fall, the Department of Education will be able to easily pull information from the tests to give clearer reports to teachers and staff members. These reports will show how well or poorly students answered the non-calculator questions.
- The ARDT (Algebra Readiness Diagnostic Test) has been redesigned to improve its reporting and diagnostic features and will be field-tested this fall. This exam will be web-based and will be beneficial in determining students’ math strengths and weaknesses. From these results, schools can use intervention programs and services to help bring the student up to grade level in math skills.
- For schools that want to assess math skills prior to Algebra, new tests or “assessments” are being developed. The department has released a list of approved tests for schools to purchase if they need help measuring the students’ math skills prior to the ARDT. They can then use these assessments in addition to the information already provided by the SOL’s.