Monday, October 18, 2021

Schools to give end-of-course test in middle of course


Below is a transcript from part of a Sept 24 board of education meeting for Baltimore County Public Schools, in which Crystal Collins, a parent of a Baltimore County eighth grader, says her child’s school plans to give the state’s High School Assessment in algebra I, which students need to pass in order to graduate—it’s one of Maryland’s four “exit” exams for high school—about four months before her daughter’s teacher has finished teaching the course.

The reason the school is doing this, I believe, is tangentially related to the Common Core, because in the spring, tests from PARCC will be field tested in all Maryland public schools. These field tests will, in most cases, be taken on computer. You’ve got so many kids and so many computers, and since the HSA is also taken on computer in many schools, the HSA and PARCC field test in May might conflict with each other.

Even though the decision to move the test to the middle of the course, a test that is actually designed to be an end-of-course exam, probably comes down to scheduling and simple logistics, it seems misguided to give eighth graders an initial test in algebra before instruction is complete just to see if they might pass it. Too many kids will fail, which will eat away at their confidence, even though they know, intellectually, they will have more than a dozen chances to pass the test before high school graduation.

We hope the school board addresses this matter, brought to its attention by a sincere parent who is standing up for her child’s education, which is being eroded in the name of scheduling and technology readiness. We would like to have seen an answer from Superintendent S Dallas Dance at the meeting, but that didn’t happen. Now’s another chance for school officials to listen and respond to the voice of students and parents. Let’s hope they take advantage of the opportunity.

(see 21 minutes into the video, here)

Good evening. Last week my eighth-grade daughter came home with a letter from the office of mathematics. In this letter, it mentioned that Baltimore County is transitioning to the Common Core standards for algebra I and that her teachers will be using the new, more complex algebra I curriculum.

Then I got to the second paragraph, and it states, “After reviewing the Baltimore County Public School algebra I curriculum, the decision has been made to administer the algebra I HSA to all students during the January testing window.” Did I just read that correctly—that my child is going to be given the algebra I test in January instead of May? How is that possible? Isn’t algebra I a yearlong course?

I looked to see when the January test was going to be given, and it’s on January 8th, which means that her teacher needs to be done teaching her everything by the end of December. That’s only four months of instruction. What is she going to do for the rest of the year? She’ll be spending more time not learning for the HSA than she did for the HSA. What teacher can take 10 months of instruction and effectively teach it in four months?

Algebra is constantly being touted as the gateway to higher-level math. It is also a difficult class for many students to pass. Where’s the data that shows that if a student only gets four months of instruction that they’re fully prepared to take the algebra I HSA in January?

My daughter attends Perry Hall Middle School, which has a reputation for excellence. Even with the excellent reputation, only 69 percent of the African-American students passed the HSA last year. This means that they had a 31-percent failure rate for African-Americans. I do not want my child to be a statistic.

The HSA is a requirement to earn a high school diploma, and the score goes on her permanent record. How is she getting a free and appropriate public education when she’s only getting four months of instruction for a yearlong course? Is this the plan to help close the achievement gap? This is not fair to our teachers, and it’s not what’s best for children.

The letter continues on to say that if she fails in January, then she can take it again in May. Really? I have a suggestion: Why not just let her teacher teach the whole thing over the course of the year and then let her take the test in May?

Why are you stressing out my child and her teachers? Throughout the years, I have expected my child’s teachers to keep her safe from bullying in the classroom. As my child has gotten older, I’ve had to teach her about cyberbullying. What a shame that I sit here today and try to defend my child from educational bullies!

Baltimore County Public Schools seems to have turned into a county of educational bullies who use as its weapon of choice the Common Core to beat the living daylights out of its teachers and cause blunt-force trauma to its students and parents.

The Common Core is not evil, but the haphazard, ill-planned, convoluted way Baltimore County is presenting it has morphed it into some obscene, perverted version of itself. I keep hearing the phrase, “We’re building the plane as we fly it.” Is this Baltimore County’s new mantra? What does that mean? Ask an English teacher, and they’ll probably tell you that it symbolizes an impossible situation. Ask a science teacher, and they’ll probably tell you that if a plane is not fly-worthy on the ground, it could not defy the laws of gravity and be flown and built at the same time.

But more importantly, who in their right mind would want to board a plane that wasn’t fully built and was missing a wing or landing gear? This does not sound like a blueprint for excellence for me, but instead a recipe for disaster.

I do not mind my child being challenged. I do, however, mind that my child is not being properly prepared to pass an assessment that is a requirement for her to earn a high school diploma.

If the Math Department continues to go down this untraveled, experimental road, parents should have the option of opting out their child from the January test. Thank you for listening.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


  1. Although we were unable to locate any research like Ms Collins requested in her remarks, we were able to locate plenty of research to support many of her statements:

    Her statement that “Algebra is constantly being touted as the gateway to higher-level math” is supported by the fact that for students who fail to master algebra in 8th or 9th grade, the path to advanced math classes and probably many high-status careers is not as available.

    Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns and bachelor’s degree attainment. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

    Long, M. C., Conger, D., & Iatarola, P. (2012, April). Effects of High School Course-Taking on Secondary and Postsecondary Success. American Educational Research Journal, 49, 285-322.

    Her statement that algebra “is also a difficult class for many students to pass” is supported by the fact that it draws upon concrete procedural skills that students develop in elementary mathematics and requires students to develop a new set of abstract reasoning skills.

    Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (2007). Early algebra. In F. K. Lester (Ed.), Second handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 669–706). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

    Vogel, C. (2008). Algebra: Changing the equation. District Administration, 44, 34–40

  2. Furthermore, we note that once a Maryland student fails an HSA, any one of them, even if it was taken in eighth grade and before the course was finished, his or her file is tagged. Educators go to great lengths to make sure these students get the help they need to pass. Ms Collins’s remark that the failure would be placed in her daughter’s permanent record is thus confirmed.

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