After over a month talking about policy, it’s fun to write about math classes for a change.

I’m teaching geometry, Algebra II, and Math For Kids Who Haven’t Passed The State Graduation Test Yet.

I’ve given this algebra readiness test to all my students for the past three years. I got it from a senior teacher at my last job, and it’s an excellent assessment of a students’ basic numeracy and first semester algebra skills. Can they substitute? work with negatives? multiply binomials? factor a quadratic? I don’t much care about second semester algebra (graphing parabolas, quadratic formula); my geometry students won’t need it, and my algebra II students will be reviewing the material again.

I know what some of you are thinking. “Why the heck are you giving your geometry and algebra II students a test in pre-algebra and first semester algebra? They already know that material, don’t they?”

This is me laughing at you naive folks. Ha ha!

Or, I could show you a graph of the results.

So the algebra II kids have taken a full year more of math than the geometry kids, and both groups have passed algebra. But the algebra II class is usually taken by kids who made it this far by their toenails, got low scores in both algebra and geometry. Geometry 9 is ninth graders who passed algebra the first time but chose not to take the honors course—and who aren’t in A2/Trig.

My Algebra II class is substantially stronger on average than last year’s class, which averaged around 20 wrong. I’ve got about 8 kids that got 0-2 wrong after finishing the test in ten minutes and should be taking A2/Trig, or even Honors. The Geometry 9 class is slightly stronger on average than my class from last year, which averaged around 12-13 wrong. My geometry classes last year were the strongest I’ve ever taught, but had a much weaker bottom than this class does. The strongest students in the Math Support class got 13-15 wrong, which is impressive.

For the uninitiated, there are two big pieces of info in this graph:

In all three classes but particularly the A2 and Geo, the range of scores on what should be an easy test is huge. The weakest students in both geometry and A2 got barely half right. I’m used to this—handling wide ranges in ability is probably my greatest strength as a teacher, although administrators don’t value it much. However, really think about that range and what it represents in terms of the ability gap within one classroom. And remember–this is a school that provides honors courses, so it tracks much more than my last two schools. The gap this year is considerably less than the scores from last year (which I can’t find, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

The other news is, of course, that the average score for the geometry class should be 5-6 wrong, and the algebra II students should, in a world where we worry more about what kids learn than what their transcript says, knock the test out of the park.

About half the kids in both geometry and algebra II classes should not be taking formal college prep courses, but rather an interesting math applications course, in which they continue to apply what they’ve already learned, rather than pile on new stuff.

Oh, well. That’s what we get for pretending ability doesn’t matter.

I don’t want to sound cynical or discouraged. I’m pumped. They’re a great group of kids and are stronger on average than my last year’s kids, with lots of high achievers. But what’s “normal” for me is clearly not anything that reformers understand or anticipate when they talk about high expectations or proficiency for all.