Math counts: And Arkansas is a leader | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 4, 2011

Math counts: And Arkansas is a leader

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2011 at 6:26 AM

Here's a bright touch from the Washington Post: A national story on education in which Arkansas plays an exemplary role.

It's about a push (not universally praised) to require teaching of algebra II because success in the course seems to correlate to college and work success.

But no state has pushed Algebra II more than Arkansas, which began requiring the class last year for most graduates and assesses how well students have done with a rigorous test — one of only two states to administer the test. Only 13 percent of those who took the Algebra II test in Arkansas were deemed “prepared” or better, but state officials said they are aiming to raise that figure rather than lower standards.

The article focuses on Conway High School, where student and teacher receptivity to the course is mixed. But then there's the real world.

For proof of the usefulness of Algebra II, students need look no farther than the largest employers in Conway.

Acxiom, a database company that employs 2,100 in the town, hires software and database developers, most of whom have bachelor’s degrees in technical fields. For them, Algebra II skills are a prerequisite. Similarly, at Snap-on Equipment, a plant that employs 170 making the sophisticated gears that garages use to align and balance tires, most production jobs require associate’s degrees in electronics.

By contrast, at the Kimberly-Clark plant, which makes feminine hygiene and adult incontinence products, production workers need only a high school education. The jobs pay 11 to $20 an hour, and when 70 spots recently came open during an expansion, about 2,000 people applied.

“We’re looking for people with the ability to think critically,” said Jeremy Cannady, until recently a manufacturing efficiency coordinator at the plant. But “not the ability to do exponential functions or logarithms.”

Whatever the demands for Algebra II, state officials are loath to lower the bar. The state has ranked near the bottom in the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees, just above West Virginia. So despite the complaints, students should be made to try, they say.

UPDATE: Thanks to Kelly MacNeil at KUAR for an update on this. This is the last year for Algebra II testing in Arkansas. Says Department spokesman Seth Blomeley:

Next year, Arkansas is beginning the implementation of Common Core, which is a uniform curriculum that participating states will agree on. It's unclear whether the Algebra II test will be among the items the states agree to require. So, that is something we are holding off on.

The Washington Post reporter was aware of this before he visited here last week for the article.

To anticipate a follow-up question, this decision was made well before the Algebra II test money was shifted to cover the supplemental transportation fund of $500,000, which as you know was part of the school funding agreement struck last week. After being asked at the time of that agreement, I informed several members of the media about the source of the transportation funding, but I'm not sure it was reported, given the volume of material in the closing days of the session.

End of testing doesn't mean a change in teaching of the course.

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