PaliHi Math Pass Rates Improving

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

The mathematics pass rates at Palisades Charter High School have steadily improved during the last four years as the school worked to enhance a program that had been handing out a D or F to nearly one in three students.

In the fall of 2016, the rate of math students garnering a D or F had dropped to 16.9 percent (497 students) of 2,936 students enrolled, while about 83 percent of students passed with an A, B or C. The figures reflect regular yearly improvements since the fall of 2013, when 770 or 30.9 percent of 2,492 students were awarded a D or F in their math classes, according to math department figures provided by Jeff Hartman, Pali’s director of academic planning and guidance services.

To improve the pass rates, the school had a multi-pronged approach, according to the school. New textbooks were bought for some classes, invested in support software like IXL, reduced class size in key courses like Algebra 1, and hired new personnel, including an instructional coach to improve math teacher practices. Pali also redesigned certain classes to slow content delivery to provide struggling students more support, in part because some students, who come from varied middle schools throughout the city, arrive without the needed skills for algebra, the entry-level math class.

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In addition, Monica Ianessa, Pali’s director of curriculum and instruction, said, “We have been reflective on student survey data that has tracked elevated math anxiety. We have support systems such as TVN and Fuerza Unida that help increase awareness among students of color of the math sup- ports available on campus such as office hours, tutoring and Math Lab.”

The efforts have paid off, according to statistics provided by Pali’s math department. In the fall of 2014, pass rates im- proved with 662 students (26.1 percent) out of 2,537 receiving Ds or Fs, while 73.9 passed with an A, B or C. The following fall continued the upward trend with 491 (19.3 percent) of 2, 550 students getting a D or F, while 80.7 percent earned an A, B, or C.

The various Algebra 1 and 2 classes saw some of the most significant improvements since pass rates were particularly low in this group of classes. In the fall of this school year, 79.7 percent enrolled in the varied algebra 1 and 2 classes earned an A, B or C, while 20.3 percent garnered a D or F. Three years before in 2013, only 67.3 passed these classes with an A, B or C, while about 32.7 percent received a D or F.

To help struggling students, a class series was created that breaks up Algebra 1 into three semesters, so students who enter Pali with fewer math skills can both improve their pre-algebra skills and also learn Algebra 1. These classes have some of Pali’s highest fail rates. In 2014, 57 percent of students in the first of the three courses received a D or F, but two years later in 2016, that percentage was almost halved, to 31 percent receiving a D or F.

This course series, titled Algebra ABC, allows the math department “to slow the pace of the content and allow students to have more time practicing essential skills needed for algebra success,” Hartman said. “However, if students are coming in with skill gaps of more than one grade level, it is hard for them to pass high school algebra on their first attempt, leading to higher fail rates.”

Geometry pass rates, which had been even worse than algebra, have also improved. In the fall of 2013, 201 (37.3 percent) of 539 students enrolled in geometry coursework garnered a D or F, while only 62.7 received an A, B or C. However, this past fall, 77.9 percent of geometry students received an A, B or C, while 22.1 were given a D or F.

These improvements have also begun to be reflected in state test scores. In 2015, 48 percent of students met or exceeded state standards, while the following year, 51 percent met or exceeded the math standards.

“We expect this year to be an even bigger jump,” Hartman said.

Although the department has been steadily improving, hundreds of students are still struggling, and both Ianessa and Hartman said the school is working to help them.

Ianessa noted, “Something new we have planned is to invest in paraprofessional aides that will be trained to help students during the instructional period in math classes rather than just separately in the Study Center after the class is over.”

In addition, Hartman said that last year about 21 percent of 9th grade students came “to Pali with math skills that were below grade level. We hope to better communicate with the many middle schools from which our students come, so that we can work together on best practices for addressing these deficits.”

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