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AUGUST 2015
ROUGH CALCULATIONS
Will the Common Core Algebra Regents
Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates?
by Kim Nauer, Nicole Mader and Laura Zingmond
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
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 at-
tempt. Those who failed the first time went on
to retake the exam an average of twice more
in later years in order to graduate, according
to a Center for New York City Affairs analysis.
Among students repeating the exam, the pass
rate plummeted to as low as 20 percent. Some
2,500 of these students took the exam more
than five times; 66 took the Integrated Alge-
bra Regents 10 or more times. At this writing,
roughly half of those 66 students have yet to
either pass the Regents exam, or graduate
from high school.
The challenge of passing algebra 1 has now
become significantly and ominously harder.
The Integrated Algebra Regents was officially
retired in June 2015 in favor of a new Com-
mon Core–aligned exam reflecting New York
State’s new and tougher academic standards.
The new exam has been laced with material
that used to be on the Algebra 2/Trigonometry
Regents exams. “The old algebra exam was at
a 7th–grade level. The new algebra exam is at a
10th–grade level,” says Midwood High School
Principal Michael McDonnell.
New York City schools tested out the new exam
in June 2014 with miserable results. Only 46
percent of freshmen who took the test passed.1
Educators are awaiting a citywide analysis of
the June 2015 results to see whether pass rates
will bounce back, or whether a dreary new nor-
mal of failure looms.
“We already have a tremendous challenge
to get students to graduate in our struggling
schools,” says Mark Dunetz, vice president
of school support at New Visions for Public
Schools, a nonprofit working in 77 mostly high–
poverty New York City high schools. “Many stu-
dents may take a Regents exam four, five or six
times before they get the 65 to graduate.” If
the failure rates get significantly higher on Al-
gebra 1, or any of the new Regents exams, “you
could be looking at a tremendous set of obsta-
cles to graduating on time,” he says.
The new exam also has reinvigorated an old
debate over the best way to teach high school
math to students who need extra help. New
York City schools have long been experiment-
ing with one–year versus two–year algebra,
“double–dose” two–period algebra, early
8th–grade algebra and algebra taught with
real world applications. Analyzing high school
For New York City public high school students, algebra 1 represents either
the gateway to advanced math or a huge, even insurmountable, stumbling
block in their education. For all students, success in algebra 1 is crucial—
and with the introduction of new Common Core–aligned statewide tests, the
odds for success have just become considerably longer.
What makes algebra 1 so important? For the vast majority of students, passing the Regents exam
for the course fulfills the state’s math requirement for graduation. In addition, 8th– and 9th–graders
who do well in algebra 1 are then steered to higher–level math and into college. But for those who
struggle, the course can be a dead end. Every year, thousands of New York City students find
themselves taking and retaking aspects of algebra in order to graduate. Both the course and the
exam have been deemed too important to fail. But plenty of kids do—too often, repeatedly. It’s a
phenomenon some educators call the “algebra whirlpool.”
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
transcripts, Center researchers found an aston-
ishing variety of course sequences and names,
ranging from “Algebra Themes,” “Algebra Ex-
ploration” and “Algebraic Problem Solving” to
“Financial Algebra,” “Principles of Algebra in
the Real World” and “Algebra Achieve Acad-
emy.” The same data also revealed another
trend: Students who take these kinds of courses
repeatedly have less opportunity to progress
to the higher–level math Regents courses, like
algebra 2 and pre–calculus, that colleges and
employers want to see.
Stalling out in math is a challenge at a great
many high schools in the city, where students
arrive unprepared for high school math and ev-
ery passed Regents exam is a victory. Of the
city’s 542 high schools, 428 serve a majority of
students who scored below the state proficien-
cy standard on their 8th–grade math test.2
The
default tendency in such cases is to repeat the
material until the students get what they need
to squeak over the finish line, but this isn’t nec-
essarily a good way to teach math, says Phil
Weinberg, the New York City Department of
Education’s deputy chancellor in charge teach-
ing and learning. “The idea is that I am just
going to go slower, so the kids can catch on,”
he says, describing what’s otherwise known
as the “more and louder” approach to teach-
ing. Weinberg, himself a former principal of a
well–regarded high–poverty high school, says
he knows alternative solutions won’t come easy,
but Chancellor Carmen Fariña is encouraging
schools to share both their best strategies and
their failures. “We’re asking them to learn from
each other,” he says.
MAJOR CHANGES IN HIGH SCHOOL MATH
Over the 2014–15 school year, researchers at
the Center for New York City Affairs and Ins-
ideschools visited more than 60 high schools,
polling principals and teachers to see how they
were dealing with the challenge of getting their
students to pass—and ideally master—algebra.
We scoured transcript data to see how high
schools were helping as many students as pos-
54.1%
20.9%
11.2%
6.6%
3.5%
2.0%
1.1%
0.7%
Number
of times:
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8+
Number of times each student in the Class of 2014 took
the Integrated Algebra Regents exam between 2010−2014
Number of Times Students Took the
Algebra 1 Regents Before Graduation
MANY STUDENTS REPEAT
THE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS EXAM
Nearly half of students in the Class of 2014
took the Integrated Algebra exam repeat-
edly to get the math Regents credit they
needed to graduate high school. Students
typically retake the exam until they get the
math Regents credit they need to gradu-
ate high school. Educators worry that the
tougher Common Core Regents exam will
exacerbate this problem.
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
sible pass Algebra 1 on the first try and what
was happening to students who had fallen into
the “whirlpool.” And we interviewed city and
state policymakers to get a sense of where the
high school math standards will be going in the
future. We found there were some important
things to understand:
o	Algebra 1 is the culmination of the K–8
Common Core State Standards; gaining a
solid grounding of algebraic concepts in
the elementary and middle school years is
essential to passing Algebra 1. The authors
of the national standards looked at what stu-
dents needed in college and concluded that
two–thirds of American 8th–graders lacked
essential algebra skills. The controversial K–8
standards in math have been an attempt to
fix that, says Jason Zimba, a lead writer of
the Common Core State Standards for math-
ematics and co–founder of Student Achieve-
ment Partners, a nonprofit promoting the
standards. In the future, he said, students
will enter high school with a thorough under-
standing of material—like linear equations,
functions and introductory geometry—that
would have previously been taught or re–
taught in high school. “These standards are
certainly more rigorous than we are used to,”
he told teachers on a recent webinar about
the standards. “The Common Core is a stair-
case to algebra,” he said adding, “it’s a pret-
ty steep staircase.”
o	Recognizing that colleges require stu-
dents to have a genuine understanding of
algebra, policymakers have been pushing
schools to improve their algebra courses
for some time now, with high schools get-
ting most of the pressure. In 2010, the New
York State Board of Regents introduced an
“aspirational” measure of math success, say-
ing students needed to get a score of 80 or
better on the Integrated Algebra Regents or
another math Regents to be deemed “col-
lege–ready.” (This was in contrast to the
Number of Math Regents Exams Passed
by Expected Date of Graduation
ONLY 40 PERCENT OF STUDENTS
MOVE BEYOND THE ALGEBRA 1
REGENTS EXAM
Both colleges and employers want to see
advanced math, but this is out of reach
for many NYC students. Among students
slated to graduate in 2014, a majority of
students topped out at Algebra 1—and
many in the class struggled to pass even
this exam.
0%
50%
100%
Percentofstudents
Number of math Regents
exams passed by 2014
Three (Algebra, Geometry & Trig)
Two (Algebra & Geometry)
One (Algebra)
None
Number of math Regents exams passed
by the August 2014 graduation cohort
between 2010−2014
NOTE: Most students
follow this progression,
though students are al-
lowed to pass any math
Regents (not just Alge-
bra 1) for graduation.
21.3%
(n=16,120)
22.5%
(n=16,991)
19.7%
(n=14,896)
36.4%
(n=27,517)
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
much–easier–to–attain score of 65 needed
to pass and graduate.) In 2011, then New
York City schools chancellor Dennis Walcott
also introduced a number of measures de-
signed to gauge how college–ready students
were, in the hopes of driving down very high
rates of costly remediation of city public high
school graduates at schools like those in the
City University of New York system. This re-
mains a priority for current schools chancel-
lor Fariña. “That is incredibly important to
us,” says Carol Mosesson–Teig, the Depart-
ment of Education’s mathematics director.
Teachers have been frustrated by
the state’s curriculum materials and
poor guidance on the Common
Core Regents exams.
o	The shift in math standards accompany-
ing the Common Core presents a major
challenge for middle and high school ed-
ucators: What exactly to teach and when?
Math skills need to be taught in a coher-
ent progression and the Common Core has
changed what that progression looks like.
Teachers and principals say they have been
doing their best to anticipate what the state’s
Common Core–aligned achievement tests
and exams will look like, gleaning what they
can from the national standards and from the
materials provided on the New York State
Department of Education’s teaching website
EngageNY. But middle school teachers find
themselves rushing through the curriculum
to make up ground lost in elementary school
on fractions and other fundamental con-
cepts. In high school, teachers are dealing
with the fact that the algebra 1, geometry
and algebra 2/trigonometry standards have
been reorganized across the board. This
would be fine if teachers were given clear
guidance on what is expected of students at
each grade level, but that isn’t happening.
Researchers at the Center interviewed more
than 20 principals and nearly three doz-
en math teachers. Nearly all said New York
State’s curriculum needed improvement to
be truly useful to teachers. They were frustrat-
ed with the inadequate guidance they have
been given on what to teach so their students
can succeed on their Common Core–aligned
Regents exams. All could cite questions on
the new Algebra 1 and Geometry Regents
examinations that were either confusing to
students or off–base given the state’s stated
priorities for teaching Common Core math.
They also criticized the EngageNY curriculum
for being poorly paced, a failing attributed to
it being designed by non–teachers. The re-
sult: A lesson that EngageNY allots one peri-
od of instruction, for example, might actually
require three periods to do well. Teachers
said New York State fails to let instructors
know which of many possible math topics are
the top priorities. Miriam Nightengale, prin-
cipal of the Columbia Secondary School for
Math, Science & Engineering, a well–regard-
ed 6–12 school on the Upper West Side, is
representative of many of the educators in-
terviewed. She has carefully read the state’s
suggested curriculum materials for both
middle and high schools and finds them lack-
ing. “The tests are being developed outside
of a curriculum. What is that for?” she asks.
“Teachers need to have something to teach.
They can’t keep guessing.”
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
Only one–quarter of students
escape the “algebra whirlpool” in
any given round of Regents exams.
o	Educators worry that Common Core confu-
sion could increase the number of students
failing Algebra 1, reducing their exposure
to advanced math and potentially driving
down graduation rates. New York State has
strict rules for what students must do to grad-
uate. Students who enter high school in Sep-
tember 2015, for example, will be required to
pass five Regents exams3
with a 65 and suc-
cessfully complete 44 credits. Students can
easily fall “off–track” if they stumble on any
of these requirements. Failing the Algebra 1
Regents can have big repercussions for both
the student and the school down the line,
explains Dunetz at New Visions. Many stu-
dents may pass an algebra 1 class, but not
the Regents exam, meaning that they essen-
tially need two math classes the next year:
another crack at algebra 1 as well as a dif-
ferent math class. Using teachers to do re-
medial work rather than advanced work will
quickly whittle down academic opportunities
for all students, he says. Repeating classes is
also disheartening to the students, only one–
quarter of whom escape the “algebra whirl-
pool” in any given round of exams. Principals
find themselves “doing crazy, crazy acrobat-
ics” of scheduling to help struggling students
get the material they need to pass the Re-
gents, Dunetz says. If more students fail the
Common Core–aligned Regents, the effects
could cascade through schools, reducing the
numbers of students who graduate. “You
want your students to pass the Algebra 1 Re-
gents in 9th grade,” he says.
CHALLENGE: TEACHING MORE MATH
WITH LESS TIME
This challenge is not new to New York City
high school principals, who must routinely bal-
ance the needs of remedial students with an
urgent mandate to better prepare all students
for college. Reporters from Insideschools vis-
ited more than 50 middle schools and more
than 60 high schools over the 2014–15 school
year. Every school had been touched by the
national Common Core Standards, and many
educators were excited and energized by the
more hands–on teaching practices the stan-
dards espouse and the chance to work with a
wider variety of materials. We found dozens of
educators who were thinking about new ways
to teach math and to structure and sequence
class time so students fully understand the
material leading up to algebra 1 and, ideally,
more advanced math too. There was a height-
ened attention to getting algebra 1 instruc-
tion right, knowing the importance of higher–
level math to kids seeking careers in medicine
and technology.
Unfortunately, however, both middle and high
school math teachers also told us that they
were struggling against tough time constraints.
That’s because while reading, writing and math
instruction compose the lion’s share of the ele-
mentary school day, in secondary schools more
class time is devoted to other topics, including
social studies, the sciences, foreign languages
and electives. The result: As the math concepts
taught to students get harder, there is much
less time devoted to their instruction. Elemen-
tary school students typically get about an
hour of math instruction a day. In middle and
high school, principals say 42 minutes a day for
math instruction is the average. The pressures
of the Common Core have made this long-
standing conundrum even more intense.
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
The most pressing problem is what to do with
students who lack the mathematics foundation
to easily master algebra in 8th or 9th grade.
New York City’s high schools have employed
a variety of strategies to tackle this challenge.
Some common approaches:
One–Year Double–Dose Algebra: Park East
in East Harlem is an example. The school
frontloads extra time for math in 9th grade.
All students take two classes of math a day,
both algebra and “Math Applications,” which
is designed to shore up students’ skills in math
New York State unveiled the new Common Core Algebra Regents exam in June 2014. That year,
students were allowed to take both exams and use the better score. The results gave educators a
glimpse of possible to challenges to come. In the charts above, we can see how students tended
to score. More students failed the exam. Perhaps more importantly, far fewer passed at New York’s
“college aspirational” level, foreshadowing a major new challenge for students entering sixth grade
this year. The Class of 2022 will be required to pass at this new college-ready level to graduate.
MORE STUDENTS ARE FAILING THE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS WITH
TOUGHER STANDARDS YET TO COME FOR TODAY’S SIXTH GRADERS
5 15 25 35 45 55
65
Current Pass
65
Current Pass
74
College
Aspirational Pass
75 80
College
Aspirational Pass
85 95
EXAM SCORE
PERCENTOFSTUDENTSEARNINGEACHSCORE
1%
2%
3%
4%
5%
1%
2%
3%
4%
5%
NEW COMMON CORE ALGEBRA REGENTS
Failed Regents
Failed Regents
Passed College–Ready
(The New Graduation
Standard in 2022)
Passed College–
Ready
OLD INTEGRATED ALGEBRA REGENTS
Passed to Graduate
Passed to Graduate
Distribution of Scores on June 2014 Algebra 1 Regents Exam:
Common Core Algebra v Integrated Algebra (First–Time Test Takers)
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
and word problems. Students who are having
trouble with particular concepts are pulled
out of regular classes to work with teachers in
small groups.
Park East, founded as a small alternative school
in 1968, has created an unusually strong math
department in the past decade. Only 11 years
ago, in 2004, Park East was on the state’s list
of schools in need of improvement, in part
because of its low pass rate on the Algebra
1 Regents. But by 2013 some 98 percent of
9th–graders passed the exam on the first try.4
Top Park East students may take Advanced
Placement Calculus, but even the struggling
students take four years of math. And the very
best teachers willingly work with the students
who need the most help: Lauren Brady, who
won the Sloan Award for Excellence in Teach-
ing in 2014, teaches basic algebra as well as a
class in statistics for students who aren’t pre-
pared to take calculus.
Another version of front–loading is to offer
summer support. Bronx Center for Science
and Mathematics, for example, is a successful,
unscreened school that manages to challenge
kids at the top while giving extra support to
kids who struggle. Before starting high school
at Bronx Center, rising 9th–graders spend
four weeks shoring up their foundational skills
in English and math. While participation in this
“bridge” program is not mandatory, most stu-
dents attend. Ninety–three percent of Bronx
Center students who took the 2013–14 Alge-
bra 1 Regents exam passed it and roughly half
scored 80 or higher on the Integrated Algebra
exam, which was the Board of Regents’ col-
lege–readiness threshold at the time.
Two–Year Algebra: Many principals feel
strongly that struggling learners need two
years to get the grounding they need to pass
the Regents and do well in higher–level math.
The Center’s review of transcript data found
many high schools offered two–year algebra
1 sequences to at least some students.
Midwood High School in Brooklyn, for exam-
ple, serves a wide range of students—some in
the highly selective and competitive Medical
Science Institute, others who are new immi-
grants from war–torn countries with little for-
mal education. The students with poor prepa-
ration are assigned to a four–semester algebra
course, which allows them to catch up on basic
skills before tackling the material needed to
pass the Algebra 1 Regents exam—particular-
ly important considering how difficult the new
Common Core Algebra exam is.
Nearly everyone passes the Algebra 1 Regents
on the first try at Park East High School
A giant school with more than 3,700 students,
Midwood, like the similarly sized Francis Lew-
is High School in Queens, has the room and
staff to make this strategy easily practicable.
Many such schools follow the time–honored
practice of putting stronger students on one
math track and weaker students on another,
slower track. And while the city’s new small
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
high schools operate with far smaller staff and
less space, some are finding ways to follow
this approach too.
Other educators, however, question wheth-
er this practice is either equitable or fruitful.
Some are experimenting with alternatives
aimed at introducing all students to advanced
math, such as the one below.
Open Access to Advanced Math: At Sunset
Park High School in Brooklyn, all 9th–graders
take both algebra and statistics. Whether or
not they pass the Algebra 1 Regents exam, all
10th–graders take geometry, all 11th–graders
take algebra 2 and all 12th–graders take pre–
calculus. Students of different abilities are
placed in the same class.
“Why would I hold you back in algebra when
you might be better at geometry?” says Prin-
cipal Victoria Antonini, arguing that students
don’t need to master algebra before trying out
the proofs and logic taught in geometry. “And
there are topics in algebra 2/trig,” she adds,
“that actually help” students still working to
pass the Algebra 1 Regents exam in the junior
year. “If we kept them in the algebra 1 whirl-
pool, we wouldn’t have known that.”
So far, she feels the approach has been work-
ing. One out of every three Sunset Park stu-
dents fails the Algebra 1 Regents as a fresh-
man, but she says nearly all eventually pass it,
graduating with their Regents credits—and
plenty of practice doing higher–level math.
“We like to think of math as a process in the
same way we think of writing as a process,” she
adds. “Students learn resiliency, problem solv-
ing and flexible thinking. Being able to think
that way is really important.”
The approach, of course, has downsides. The
school offers no Advanced Placement math
courses. And it can be tough to teach a math
class to students of such varying abilities, as An-
tonini’s own teachers freely admit. “I feel like I
am sort of teaching to the middle. I am trying
to reach everyone and I am not sure I am reach-
ing anyone,” says Rebecca Kunce, who teaches
pre–calculus. She adds, however, that her stu-
dents clearly benefit from being exposed to
the upper–level math and to her class projects.
“Students never think, ‘I’m in the stupid class,’”
she says. “Math is the same for everybody.”
Sunset Park High School mixes students of different
abilities in the same class.
COMING SOON: MUCH TOUGHER
GRADUATION STANDARDS
Unfortunately, there’s no track record yet
on the comparative success of these various
strategies when it comes to Common Core al-
gebra. The introduction of the Common Core
algebra 1 curriculum is still a work in prog-
ress, and so is the school–level adaptation to
it. What is clear is that as the Common Core
moves into high schools, the New York City
Department of Education will need a strate-
gy for helping schools and students meet the
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
new demands. The new Algebra 1 Regents is
just the first of several new challenges for high
school students, but it’s a big one. Principals
must quickly adjust their curricula so students
can have a reasonable expectation of passing
the exam. They must also begin looking down
the road three years, when this year’s 6th–
graders—the Class of 2022—arrive. All those
students will need to pass Algebra 1 at New
York State’s “college aspirational” level which
is far above the 65 now required to pass the
exam. Currently, only about 39 percent of
students in the 2022 graduating cohort are
doing math at this level, as measured by re-
sults on the Common Core–aligned stan-
dardized tests they’ve already taken in ele-
mentary school. Within three years’ time, the
mathematical skills of these sixth graders will
have to improve dramatically if the city’s high
schools are to have much hope of maintain-
ing their current graduation rates, let alone
improving them.
On the positive side, scores on the new Com-
mon Core–aligned achievement tests in grades
3–8 have improved substantially over the first
two years of testing. Math pass rates went up
by almost five percentage points overall from
2013 to 2014. “If we could continue to see that
increase over the coming years, we would be
very, very happy,” says the Department of Ed-
ucation’s Linda Curtis–Bey, executive director
Students Taking Algebra 1
Regents for the First Time
in 2014 Number
Integrated
Algebra:
Current Pass Rate
Integrated
Algebra: College
Aspirational Pass
Rate
Common Core
Algebra:
Current Pass Rate
Common Core
Algebra: College
Aspirational Pass
Rate
Overall 68,933 72.5% 31.5% 58.2% 14.3%
Free Lunch Not Eligible 17,095 81.3% 43.3% 71.7% 23.1%
Free Lunch Eligible 50,964 69.7% 27.4% 53.6% 11.5%
Non English Langage Learners 59,164 75.5% 33.5% 61.5% 15.9%
English Language Learners 8,895 53.7% 17.6% 30.7% 4.6%
General Education 58,405 78.4% 35.5% 63.6% 16.5%
Special Education 9,654 37.4% 6.8% 20.5% 1.7%
Asian 11,807 91.1% 64.5% 85.3% 39.5%
Black 19,986 64.4% 17.4% 43.4% 4.5%
Hispanic 25,672 64.9% 20.1% 47.5% 6.3%
White 9,294 86.6% 50.0% 78.3% 26.2%
STRUGGLING STUDENTS POST DRAMATICALLY LOWER PASS RATES
ON THE COMMON CORE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS EXAM
The new Common Core Algebra 1 Regents exam is challenging for all students, but it poses particu-
larly stiff challenges for students who have traditionally struggled with the Regents exam. Pass rates
for English language learners and students in special education are more than 20 percentage points
lower. This year’s 6th–graders (the Class of 2022) will be required to pass at the “college aspirational”
level to graduate. Pass rates at the college aspirational level are currently very low among students
who struggle in school.
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ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
in charge of science, technology and math. But
she admits such a continued rate of growth may
be unrealistic. She says her team has been pi-
loting a number of new math instructional ap-
proaches at the middle and high school level
that show promise. “We’ll see if their numbers
hold up,” she says.
The Department of Education’s math coaches
will also need to play a big role going forward.
In January 2015, Chancellor Fariña announced
that she would disband former mayor Michael
Bloomberg’s Children First Networks, teams
chosen by principals to provide instructional
and operational support to their schools. The
networks are being replaced with superinten-
dents who directly oversee the principals and
support staff to be based in new “Borough Field
Support Centers.” Those centers were opened
in July and the new instructional support teams
are now mostly in place. Instructional coaches
at the field offices will be working with princi-
pals, assistant principals and department heads
to roll out new approaches to math instruction
that emphasize more dialogue about underly-
ing math concepts and giving students an op-
portunity to apply the math they are learning
in real–world projects, says Curtis–Bey. “For
many, it’s a shift in how they have taught math-
ematics,” she says.
The education department’s Weinberg adds
that he is hopeful that schools will have the
ability to help themselves, learning from each
other. New York City has the advantage of a
large pool of schools doing experimentation
and innovation. It is also home to some of the
strongest math high schools in the nation as
well as to immigrant students who’ve learned
different approaches to math in their home
countries. These are all assets, he says.
“Right now, the standards are just words. They
won’t have flesh and bones until schools start
to work with them deeply,” he says. “Schools
need time to study New York State’s goals
and develop new approaches with their kids
before we can expect to see meaningful dif-
ferences in how the Common Core is taught
throughout the system.”
1. Many students took the Integrated Algebra test as
well; roughly 63 percent passed it.
2. This figure includes all students in grades 9 through 12
despite significant changes in how proficiency was mea-
sured over the past four years. Freshmen entering high
school in 2013 were evaluated in 8th grade with the new
Common Core–aligned exams introduced in the 2012–13
school year, which resulted in lower average proficiency
levels than the cohorts preceding them.
3. All students must pass one Regents exam in these four
categories: English Language Arts, math, science and
social studies. Students may then choose a fifth Regents
exam or a “state–approved assessment” in career– or
arts–related coursework.
4. Website of the Institute for Student Achievement:
http://www.studentachievement.org/park–east–high–
school–math–teacher/.
This report is published jointly by the Center for New York
City Affairs and Insideschools.
The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School is
an applied policy research institute that drives innovation
in social policy.
Insideschools, a project of the Center, helps parents find
good public schools in New York City.
This report was made possible with a grant from the
Donors’ Education Collaborative and the Alfred P. Sloan
Foundation.
CNYCA Executive Director: Kristin Morse
CNYCA Education Project Director: Kim Nauer
Editor, Insideschools: Clara Hemphill
Reporter: Laura Zingmond
Data Analyst: Nicole Mader
Editorial Consultant: Bruce Cory
Reporter and Copy Editor: Aimee Sabo
Layout and Design: Mick Wieland
12
ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES?
The data analysis and visualization work in this
report was conducted by Nicole Mader at the
Center for New York City Affairs using the New
York City Department of Education’s student
datasets. Details on the analysis and datasets
are listed below.
In addition, we would like to thank the many
teachers and principals who spent hours talking
to us about the new Common Core math Re-
gents exams. Most of these educators were
not named in this report but provided invalu-
able insight and perspective. We also wish to
thank the Department of Education’s top math
experts for their time as well as officials at the
New York State Education Department who
patiently explained the state’s very confusing
Regents exam scoring system (a topic we art-
fully avoided in this paper but worth further
discussion in the future).
REGARDING THE CENTER’S DATA ANALYSIS:
• All longitudinal data referring to the “Class of
2014” pertains to the students who entered
high school in the fall of 2010 and were ex-
pected to graduate by summer 2014. Scram-
bled student ID numbers and graduation
outcomes as of August 2014 were taken from
the NY State Education Department’s 2014
Graduation Reporting Dataset.
• Regents Exam achievement data were tak-
en from the NYC Department of Education’s
2010–2014 Regents Datasets and matched
to graduation data by scrambled student ID
numbers. Comparisons of Integrated Alge-
bra scores to Common Core Algebra scores
were limited to those taking either exam for
the first time, according to the previous four
years of Regents data.
• Biographical data including free lunch eligi-
bility and disability status were taken from
the NYC Department of Education’s 2014
June Biographic Dataset and matched to
Regents and graduation data using scram-
bled student IDs.
• Incoming math proficiency at all NYC high
schools was calculated using the NYC De-
partment of Education’s 2008–2013 Test
and Biographical Datasets for Grades 3–8.
Any students scoring less than “3.0” on the
8th–grade state achievement tests were
considered “below state standards” when
entering high school.
• Course titles were found in the 2014 NYC
Department of Education’s Courses and
Credits Dataset.
TECHNICAL NOTES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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Rough Calculations

  • 1. AUGUST 2015 ROUGH CALCULATIONS Will the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates? by Kim Nauer, Nicole Mader and Laura Zingmond
  • 2. 2 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? 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 at- tempt. Those who failed the first time went on to retake the exam an average of twice more in later years in order to graduate, according to a Center for New York City Affairs analysis. Among students repeating the exam, the pass rate plummeted to as low as 20 percent. Some 2,500 of these students took the exam more than five times; 66 took the Integrated Alge- bra Regents 10 or more times. At this writing, roughly half of those 66 students have yet to either pass the Regents exam, or graduate from high school. The challenge of passing algebra 1 has now become significantly and ominously harder. The Integrated Algebra Regents was officially retired in June 2015 in favor of a new Com- mon Core–aligned exam reflecting New York State’s new and tougher academic standards. The new exam has been laced with material that used to be on the Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents exams. “The old algebra exam was at a 7th–grade level. The new algebra exam is at a 10th–grade level,” says Midwood High School Principal Michael McDonnell. New York City schools tested out the new exam in June 2014 with miserable results. Only 46 percent of freshmen who took the test passed.1 Educators are awaiting a citywide analysis of the June 2015 results to see whether pass rates will bounce back, or whether a dreary new nor- mal of failure looms. “We already have a tremendous challenge to get students to graduate in our struggling schools,” says Mark Dunetz, vice president of school support at New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit working in 77 mostly high– poverty New York City high schools. “Many stu- dents may take a Regents exam four, five or six times before they get the 65 to graduate.” If the failure rates get significantly higher on Al- gebra 1, or any of the new Regents exams, “you could be looking at a tremendous set of obsta- cles to graduating on time,” he says. The new exam also has reinvigorated an old debate over the best way to teach high school math to students who need extra help. New York City schools have long been experiment- ing with one–year versus two–year algebra, “double–dose” two–period algebra, early 8th–grade algebra and algebra taught with real world applications. Analyzing high school For New York City public high school students, algebra 1 represents either the gateway to advanced math or a huge, even insurmountable, stumbling block in their education. For all students, success in algebra 1 is crucial— and with the introduction of new Common Core–aligned statewide tests, the odds for success have just become considerably longer. What makes algebra 1 so important? For the vast majority of students, passing the Regents exam for the course fulfills the state’s math requirement for graduation. In addition, 8th– and 9th–graders who do well in algebra 1 are then steered to higher–level math and into college. But for those who struggle, the course can be a dead end. Every year, thousands of New York City students find themselves taking and retaking aspects of algebra in order to graduate. Both the course and the exam have been deemed too important to fail. But plenty of kids do—too often, repeatedly. It’s a phenomenon some educators call the “algebra whirlpool.”
  • 3. 3 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? transcripts, Center researchers found an aston- ishing variety of course sequences and names, ranging from “Algebra Themes,” “Algebra Ex- ploration” and “Algebraic Problem Solving” to “Financial Algebra,” “Principles of Algebra in the Real World” and “Algebra Achieve Acad- emy.” The same data also revealed another trend: Students who take these kinds of courses repeatedly have less opportunity to progress to the higher–level math Regents courses, like algebra 2 and pre–calculus, that colleges and employers want to see. Stalling out in math is a challenge at a great many high schools in the city, where students arrive unprepared for high school math and ev- ery passed Regents exam is a victory. Of the city’s 542 high schools, 428 serve a majority of students who scored below the state proficien- cy standard on their 8th–grade math test.2 The default tendency in such cases is to repeat the material until the students get what they need to squeak over the finish line, but this isn’t nec- essarily a good way to teach math, says Phil Weinberg, the New York City Department of Education’s deputy chancellor in charge teach- ing and learning. “The idea is that I am just going to go slower, so the kids can catch on,” he says, describing what’s otherwise known as the “more and louder” approach to teach- ing. Weinberg, himself a former principal of a well–regarded high–poverty high school, says he knows alternative solutions won’t come easy, but Chancellor Carmen Fariña is encouraging schools to share both their best strategies and their failures. “We’re asking them to learn from each other,” he says. MAJOR CHANGES IN HIGH SCHOOL MATH Over the 2014–15 school year, researchers at the Center for New York City Affairs and Ins- ideschools visited more than 60 high schools, polling principals and teachers to see how they were dealing with the challenge of getting their students to pass—and ideally master—algebra. We scoured transcript data to see how high schools were helping as many students as pos- 54.1% 20.9% 11.2% 6.6% 3.5% 2.0% 1.1% 0.7% Number of times: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8+ Number of times each student in the Class of 2014 took the Integrated Algebra Regents exam between 2010−2014 Number of Times Students Took the Algebra 1 Regents Before Graduation MANY STUDENTS REPEAT THE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS EXAM Nearly half of students in the Class of 2014 took the Integrated Algebra exam repeat- edly to get the math Regents credit they needed to graduate high school. Students typically retake the exam until they get the math Regents credit they need to gradu- ate high school. Educators worry that the tougher Common Core Regents exam will exacerbate this problem.
  • 4. 4 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? sible pass Algebra 1 on the first try and what was happening to students who had fallen into the “whirlpool.” And we interviewed city and state policymakers to get a sense of where the high school math standards will be going in the future. We found there were some important things to understand: o Algebra 1 is the culmination of the K–8 Common Core State Standards; gaining a solid grounding of algebraic concepts in the elementary and middle school years is essential to passing Algebra 1. The authors of the national standards looked at what stu- dents needed in college and concluded that two–thirds of American 8th–graders lacked essential algebra skills. The controversial K–8 standards in math have been an attempt to fix that, says Jason Zimba, a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards for math- ematics and co–founder of Student Achieve- ment Partners, a nonprofit promoting the standards. In the future, he said, students will enter high school with a thorough under- standing of material—like linear equations, functions and introductory geometry—that would have previously been taught or re– taught in high school. “These standards are certainly more rigorous than we are used to,” he told teachers on a recent webinar about the standards. “The Common Core is a stair- case to algebra,” he said adding, “it’s a pret- ty steep staircase.” o Recognizing that colleges require stu- dents to have a genuine understanding of algebra, policymakers have been pushing schools to improve their algebra courses for some time now, with high schools get- ting most of the pressure. In 2010, the New York State Board of Regents introduced an “aspirational” measure of math success, say- ing students needed to get a score of 80 or better on the Integrated Algebra Regents or another math Regents to be deemed “col- lege–ready.” (This was in contrast to the Number of Math Regents Exams Passed by Expected Date of Graduation ONLY 40 PERCENT OF STUDENTS MOVE BEYOND THE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS EXAM Both colleges and employers want to see advanced math, but this is out of reach for many NYC students. Among students slated to graduate in 2014, a majority of students topped out at Algebra 1—and many in the class struggled to pass even this exam. 0% 50% 100% Percentofstudents Number of math Regents exams passed by 2014 Three (Algebra, Geometry & Trig) Two (Algebra & Geometry) One (Algebra) None Number of math Regents exams passed by the August 2014 graduation cohort between 2010−2014 NOTE: Most students follow this progression, though students are al- lowed to pass any math Regents (not just Alge- bra 1) for graduation. 21.3% (n=16,120) 22.5% (n=16,991) 19.7% (n=14,896) 36.4% (n=27,517)
  • 5. 5 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? much–easier–to–attain score of 65 needed to pass and graduate.) In 2011, then New York City schools chancellor Dennis Walcott also introduced a number of measures de- signed to gauge how college–ready students were, in the hopes of driving down very high rates of costly remediation of city public high school graduates at schools like those in the City University of New York system. This re- mains a priority for current schools chancel- lor Fariña. “That is incredibly important to us,” says Carol Mosesson–Teig, the Depart- ment of Education’s mathematics director. Teachers have been frustrated by the state’s curriculum materials and poor guidance on the Common Core Regents exams. o The shift in math standards accompany- ing the Common Core presents a major challenge for middle and high school ed- ucators: What exactly to teach and when? Math skills need to be taught in a coher- ent progression and the Common Core has changed what that progression looks like. Teachers and principals say they have been doing their best to anticipate what the state’s Common Core–aligned achievement tests and exams will look like, gleaning what they can from the national standards and from the materials provided on the New York State Department of Education’s teaching website EngageNY. But middle school teachers find themselves rushing through the curriculum to make up ground lost in elementary school on fractions and other fundamental con- cepts. In high school, teachers are dealing with the fact that the algebra 1, geometry and algebra 2/trigonometry standards have been reorganized across the board. This would be fine if teachers were given clear guidance on what is expected of students at each grade level, but that isn’t happening. Researchers at the Center interviewed more than 20 principals and nearly three doz- en math teachers. Nearly all said New York State’s curriculum needed improvement to be truly useful to teachers. They were frustrat- ed with the inadequate guidance they have been given on what to teach so their students can succeed on their Common Core–aligned Regents exams. All could cite questions on the new Algebra 1 and Geometry Regents examinations that were either confusing to students or off–base given the state’s stated priorities for teaching Common Core math. They also criticized the EngageNY curriculum for being poorly paced, a failing attributed to it being designed by non–teachers. The re- sult: A lesson that EngageNY allots one peri- od of instruction, for example, might actually require three periods to do well. Teachers said New York State fails to let instructors know which of many possible math topics are the top priorities. Miriam Nightengale, prin- cipal of the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering, a well–regard- ed 6–12 school on the Upper West Side, is representative of many of the educators in- terviewed. She has carefully read the state’s suggested curriculum materials for both middle and high schools and finds them lack- ing. “The tests are being developed outside of a curriculum. What is that for?” she asks. “Teachers need to have something to teach. They can’t keep guessing.”
  • 6. 6 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? Only one–quarter of students escape the “algebra whirlpool” in any given round of Regents exams. o Educators worry that Common Core confu- sion could increase the number of students failing Algebra 1, reducing their exposure to advanced math and potentially driving down graduation rates. New York State has strict rules for what students must do to grad- uate. Students who enter high school in Sep- tember 2015, for example, will be required to pass five Regents exams3 with a 65 and suc- cessfully complete 44 credits. Students can easily fall “off–track” if they stumble on any of these requirements. Failing the Algebra 1 Regents can have big repercussions for both the student and the school down the line, explains Dunetz at New Visions. Many stu- dents may pass an algebra 1 class, but not the Regents exam, meaning that they essen- tially need two math classes the next year: another crack at algebra 1 as well as a dif- ferent math class. Using teachers to do re- medial work rather than advanced work will quickly whittle down academic opportunities for all students, he says. Repeating classes is also disheartening to the students, only one– quarter of whom escape the “algebra whirl- pool” in any given round of exams. Principals find themselves “doing crazy, crazy acrobat- ics” of scheduling to help struggling students get the material they need to pass the Re- gents, Dunetz says. If more students fail the Common Core–aligned Regents, the effects could cascade through schools, reducing the numbers of students who graduate. “You want your students to pass the Algebra 1 Re- gents in 9th grade,” he says. CHALLENGE: TEACHING MORE MATH WITH LESS TIME This challenge is not new to New York City high school principals, who must routinely bal- ance the needs of remedial students with an urgent mandate to better prepare all students for college. Reporters from Insideschools vis- ited more than 50 middle schools and more than 60 high schools over the 2014–15 school year. Every school had been touched by the national Common Core Standards, and many educators were excited and energized by the more hands–on teaching practices the stan- dards espouse and the chance to work with a wider variety of materials. We found dozens of educators who were thinking about new ways to teach math and to structure and sequence class time so students fully understand the material leading up to algebra 1 and, ideally, more advanced math too. There was a height- ened attention to getting algebra 1 instruc- tion right, knowing the importance of higher– level math to kids seeking careers in medicine and technology. Unfortunately, however, both middle and high school math teachers also told us that they were struggling against tough time constraints. That’s because while reading, writing and math instruction compose the lion’s share of the ele- mentary school day, in secondary schools more class time is devoted to other topics, including social studies, the sciences, foreign languages and electives. The result: As the math concepts taught to students get harder, there is much less time devoted to their instruction. Elemen- tary school students typically get about an hour of math instruction a day. In middle and high school, principals say 42 minutes a day for math instruction is the average. The pressures of the Common Core have made this long- standing conundrum even more intense.
  • 7. 7 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? The most pressing problem is what to do with students who lack the mathematics foundation to easily master algebra in 8th or 9th grade. New York City’s high schools have employed a variety of strategies to tackle this challenge. Some common approaches: One–Year Double–Dose Algebra: Park East in East Harlem is an example. The school frontloads extra time for math in 9th grade. All students take two classes of math a day, both algebra and “Math Applications,” which is designed to shore up students’ skills in math New York State unveiled the new Common Core Algebra Regents exam in June 2014. That year, students were allowed to take both exams and use the better score. The results gave educators a glimpse of possible to challenges to come. In the charts above, we can see how students tended to score. More students failed the exam. Perhaps more importantly, far fewer passed at New York’s “college aspirational” level, foreshadowing a major new challenge for students entering sixth grade this year. The Class of 2022 will be required to pass at this new college-ready level to graduate. MORE STUDENTS ARE FAILING THE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS WITH TOUGHER STANDARDS YET TO COME FOR TODAY’S SIXTH GRADERS 5 15 25 35 45 55 65 Current Pass 65 Current Pass 74 College Aspirational Pass 75 80 College Aspirational Pass 85 95 EXAM SCORE PERCENTOFSTUDENTSEARNINGEACHSCORE 1% 2% 3% 4% 5% 1% 2% 3% 4% 5% NEW COMMON CORE ALGEBRA REGENTS Failed Regents Failed Regents Passed College–Ready (The New Graduation Standard in 2022) Passed College– Ready OLD INTEGRATED ALGEBRA REGENTS Passed to Graduate Passed to Graduate Distribution of Scores on June 2014 Algebra 1 Regents Exam: Common Core Algebra v Integrated Algebra (First–Time Test Takers)
  • 8. 8 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? and word problems. Students who are having trouble with particular concepts are pulled out of regular classes to work with teachers in small groups. Park East, founded as a small alternative school in 1968, has created an unusually strong math department in the past decade. Only 11 years ago, in 2004, Park East was on the state’s list of schools in need of improvement, in part because of its low pass rate on the Algebra 1 Regents. But by 2013 some 98 percent of 9th–graders passed the exam on the first try.4 Top Park East students may take Advanced Placement Calculus, but even the struggling students take four years of math. And the very best teachers willingly work with the students who need the most help: Lauren Brady, who won the Sloan Award for Excellence in Teach- ing in 2014, teaches basic algebra as well as a class in statistics for students who aren’t pre- pared to take calculus. Another version of front–loading is to offer summer support. Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, for example, is a successful, unscreened school that manages to challenge kids at the top while giving extra support to kids who struggle. Before starting high school at Bronx Center, rising 9th–graders spend four weeks shoring up their foundational skills in English and math. While participation in this “bridge” program is not mandatory, most stu- dents attend. Ninety–three percent of Bronx Center students who took the 2013–14 Alge- bra 1 Regents exam passed it and roughly half scored 80 or higher on the Integrated Algebra exam, which was the Board of Regents’ col- lege–readiness threshold at the time. Two–Year Algebra: Many principals feel strongly that struggling learners need two years to get the grounding they need to pass the Regents and do well in higher–level math. The Center’s review of transcript data found many high schools offered two–year algebra 1 sequences to at least some students. Midwood High School in Brooklyn, for exam- ple, serves a wide range of students—some in the highly selective and competitive Medical Science Institute, others who are new immi- grants from war–torn countries with little for- mal education. The students with poor prepa- ration are assigned to a four–semester algebra course, which allows them to catch up on basic skills before tackling the material needed to pass the Algebra 1 Regents exam—particular- ly important considering how difficult the new Common Core Algebra exam is. Nearly everyone passes the Algebra 1 Regents on the first try at Park East High School A giant school with more than 3,700 students, Midwood, like the similarly sized Francis Lew- is High School in Queens, has the room and staff to make this strategy easily practicable. Many such schools follow the time–honored practice of putting stronger students on one math track and weaker students on another, slower track. And while the city’s new small
  • 9. 9 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? high schools operate with far smaller staff and less space, some are finding ways to follow this approach too. Other educators, however, question wheth- er this practice is either equitable or fruitful. Some are experimenting with alternatives aimed at introducing all students to advanced math, such as the one below. Open Access to Advanced Math: At Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn, all 9th–graders take both algebra and statistics. Whether or not they pass the Algebra 1 Regents exam, all 10th–graders take geometry, all 11th–graders take algebra 2 and all 12th–graders take pre– calculus. Students of different abilities are placed in the same class. “Why would I hold you back in algebra when you might be better at geometry?” says Prin- cipal Victoria Antonini, arguing that students don’t need to master algebra before trying out the proofs and logic taught in geometry. “And there are topics in algebra 2/trig,” she adds, “that actually help” students still working to pass the Algebra 1 Regents exam in the junior year. “If we kept them in the algebra 1 whirl- pool, we wouldn’t have known that.” So far, she feels the approach has been work- ing. One out of every three Sunset Park stu- dents fails the Algebra 1 Regents as a fresh- man, but she says nearly all eventually pass it, graduating with their Regents credits—and plenty of practice doing higher–level math. “We like to think of math as a process in the same way we think of writing as a process,” she adds. “Students learn resiliency, problem solv- ing and flexible thinking. Being able to think that way is really important.” The approach, of course, has downsides. The school offers no Advanced Placement math courses. And it can be tough to teach a math class to students of such varying abilities, as An- tonini’s own teachers freely admit. “I feel like I am sort of teaching to the middle. I am trying to reach everyone and I am not sure I am reach- ing anyone,” says Rebecca Kunce, who teaches pre–calculus. She adds, however, that her stu- dents clearly benefit from being exposed to the upper–level math and to her class projects. “Students never think, ‘I’m in the stupid class,’” she says. “Math is the same for everybody.” Sunset Park High School mixes students of different abilities in the same class. COMING SOON: MUCH TOUGHER GRADUATION STANDARDS Unfortunately, there’s no track record yet on the comparative success of these various strategies when it comes to Common Core al- gebra. The introduction of the Common Core algebra 1 curriculum is still a work in prog- ress, and so is the school–level adaptation to it. What is clear is that as the Common Core moves into high schools, the New York City Department of Education will need a strate- gy for helping schools and students meet the
  • 10. 10 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? new demands. The new Algebra 1 Regents is just the first of several new challenges for high school students, but it’s a big one. Principals must quickly adjust their curricula so students can have a reasonable expectation of passing the exam. They must also begin looking down the road three years, when this year’s 6th– graders—the Class of 2022—arrive. All those students will need to pass Algebra 1 at New York State’s “college aspirational” level which is far above the 65 now required to pass the exam. Currently, only about 39 percent of students in the 2022 graduating cohort are doing math at this level, as measured by re- sults on the Common Core–aligned stan- dardized tests they’ve already taken in ele- mentary school. Within three years’ time, the mathematical skills of these sixth graders will have to improve dramatically if the city’s high schools are to have much hope of maintain- ing their current graduation rates, let alone improving them. On the positive side, scores on the new Com- mon Core–aligned achievement tests in grades 3–8 have improved substantially over the first two years of testing. Math pass rates went up by almost five percentage points overall from 2013 to 2014. “If we could continue to see that increase over the coming years, we would be very, very happy,” says the Department of Ed- ucation’s Linda Curtis–Bey, executive director Students Taking Algebra 1 Regents for the First Time in 2014 Number Integrated Algebra: Current Pass Rate Integrated Algebra: College Aspirational Pass Rate Common Core Algebra: Current Pass Rate Common Core Algebra: College Aspirational Pass Rate Overall 68,933 72.5% 31.5% 58.2% 14.3% Free Lunch Not Eligible 17,095 81.3% 43.3% 71.7% 23.1% Free Lunch Eligible 50,964 69.7% 27.4% 53.6% 11.5% Non English Langage Learners 59,164 75.5% 33.5% 61.5% 15.9% English Language Learners 8,895 53.7% 17.6% 30.7% 4.6% General Education 58,405 78.4% 35.5% 63.6% 16.5% Special Education 9,654 37.4% 6.8% 20.5% 1.7% Asian 11,807 91.1% 64.5% 85.3% 39.5% Black 19,986 64.4% 17.4% 43.4% 4.5% Hispanic 25,672 64.9% 20.1% 47.5% 6.3% White 9,294 86.6% 50.0% 78.3% 26.2% STRUGGLING STUDENTS POST DRAMATICALLY LOWER PASS RATES ON THE COMMON CORE ALGEBRA 1 REGENTS EXAM The new Common Core Algebra 1 Regents exam is challenging for all students, but it poses particu- larly stiff challenges for students who have traditionally struggled with the Regents exam. Pass rates for English language learners and students in special education are more than 20 percentage points lower. This year’s 6th–graders (the Class of 2022) will be required to pass at the “college aspirational” level to graduate. Pass rates at the college aspirational level are currently very low among students who struggle in school.
  • 11. 11 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? in charge of science, technology and math. But she admits such a continued rate of growth may be unrealistic. She says her team has been pi- loting a number of new math instructional ap- proaches at the middle and high school level that show promise. “We’ll see if their numbers hold up,” she says. The Department of Education’s math coaches will also need to play a big role going forward. In January 2015, Chancellor Fariña announced that she would disband former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Children First Networks, teams chosen by principals to provide instructional and operational support to their schools. The networks are being replaced with superinten- dents who directly oversee the principals and support staff to be based in new “Borough Field Support Centers.” Those centers were opened in July and the new instructional support teams are now mostly in place. Instructional coaches at the field offices will be working with princi- pals, assistant principals and department heads to roll out new approaches to math instruction that emphasize more dialogue about underly- ing math concepts and giving students an op- portunity to apply the math they are learning in real–world projects, says Curtis–Bey. “For many, it’s a shift in how they have taught math- ematics,” she says. The education department’s Weinberg adds that he is hopeful that schools will have the ability to help themselves, learning from each other. New York City has the advantage of a large pool of schools doing experimentation and innovation. It is also home to some of the strongest math high schools in the nation as well as to immigrant students who’ve learned different approaches to math in their home countries. These are all assets, he says. “Right now, the standards are just words. They won’t have flesh and bones until schools start to work with them deeply,” he says. “Schools need time to study New York State’s goals and develop new approaches with their kids before we can expect to see meaningful dif- ferences in how the Common Core is taught throughout the system.” 1. Many students took the Integrated Algebra test as well; roughly 63 percent passed it. 2. This figure includes all students in grades 9 through 12 despite significant changes in how proficiency was mea- sured over the past four years. Freshmen entering high school in 2013 were evaluated in 8th grade with the new Common Core–aligned exams introduced in the 2012–13 school year, which resulted in lower average proficiency levels than the cohorts preceding them. 3. All students must pass one Regents exam in these four categories: English Language Arts, math, science and social studies. Students may then choose a fifth Regents exam or a “state–approved assessment” in career– or arts–related coursework. 4. Website of the Institute for Student Achievement: http://www.studentachievement.org/park–east–high– school–math–teacher/. This report is published jointly by the Center for New York City Affairs and Insideschools. The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School is an applied policy research institute that drives innovation in social policy. Insideschools, a project of the Center, helps parents find good public schools in New York City. This report was made possible with a grant from the Donors’ Education Collaborative and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. CNYCA Executive Director: Kristin Morse CNYCA Education Project Director: Kim Nauer Editor, Insideschools: Clara Hemphill Reporter: Laura Zingmond Data Analyst: Nicole Mader Editorial Consultant: Bruce Cory Reporter and Copy Editor: Aimee Sabo Layout and Design: Mick Wieland
  • 12. 12 ROUGHCALCULATIONS:WILLTHECOMMONCOREALGEBRAREGENTSEXAMTHREATENNYC’SGRADUATIONRATES? The data analysis and visualization work in this report was conducted by Nicole Mader at the Center for New York City Affairs using the New York City Department of Education’s student datasets. Details on the analysis and datasets are listed below. In addition, we would like to thank the many teachers and principals who spent hours talking to us about the new Common Core math Re- gents exams. Most of these educators were not named in this report but provided invalu- able insight and perspective. We also wish to thank the Department of Education’s top math experts for their time as well as officials at the New York State Education Department who patiently explained the state’s very confusing Regents exam scoring system (a topic we art- fully avoided in this paper but worth further discussion in the future). REGARDING THE CENTER’S DATA ANALYSIS: • All longitudinal data referring to the “Class of 2014” pertains to the students who entered high school in the fall of 2010 and were ex- pected to graduate by summer 2014. Scram- bled student ID numbers and graduation outcomes as of August 2014 were taken from the NY State Education Department’s 2014 Graduation Reporting Dataset. • Regents Exam achievement data were tak- en from the NYC Department of Education’s 2010–2014 Regents Datasets and matched to graduation data by scrambled student ID numbers. Comparisons of Integrated Alge- bra scores to Common Core Algebra scores were limited to those taking either exam for the first time, according to the previous four years of Regents data. • Biographical data including free lunch eligi- bility and disability status were taken from the NYC Department of Education’s 2014 June Biographic Dataset and matched to Regents and graduation data using scram- bled student IDs. • Incoming math proficiency at all NYC high schools was calculated using the NYC De- partment of Education’s 2008–2013 Test and Biographical Datasets for Grades 3–8. Any students scoring less than “3.0” on the 8th–grade state achievement tests were considered “below state standards” when entering high school. • Course titles were found in the 2014 NYC Department of Education’s Courses and Credits Dataset. TECHNICAL NOTES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS