Doing the Math

April 2009 / Education / Abell Reports

Examining alignment among Maryland’s voluntary state curriculum for high school mathematics, the algebra I high school assessment, and the Accuplacer college placement tests.

The educational standards, instruction, and testing of mathematics remain a controversial subject in the United States. Nationally, there is a documented lack of alignment between the expectations of college professors and the mandates for high school mathematics educators. According to a 2008 report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, there is a “vast and growing demand for remedial mathematics education among arriving students in four-year colleges and community colleges across the nation.” This trend has been reported in Maryland where nearly one-third of even the best-prepared high school graduates require mathematics remediation in college. Worse, the problem seems to be increasing: The need for remedial mathematics among Maryland students who take a college-preparatory curriculum in high school and attend Maryland colleges has increased from 23 percent in 1997 to 32 percent in 2007. These rates vary across districts and student subgroups, and for some subgroups of students, the most recently reported remediation rate is as high as 69 percent.

It is, unfortunately, students who bear the brunt of the gap between the expectations of colleges and high schools. Colleges require remedial students to complete noncredit yet tuition-bearing classes in order to proceed with obtaining a degree. These classes are significant stumbling blocks for many students. Maryland, like other states, has revamped its standards for mathematics and now offers guidance to educators with the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum (VSC) for High School Mathematics. Furthermore, as of the graduating class of 2009, all Maryland public school students must pass the High School Assessment (HSA) for
Algebra I/Data Analysis in order to earn a high school diploma. Simultaneously, Maryland’s community colleges utilize standardized college-placement testing, namely the College Board’s Accuplacer Test.

Given the significant and growing need for mathematics remediation, it is reasonable to question how well Maryland is preparing its high school students to succeed in post-secondary institutions. Is the state’s VSC for high school mathematics aligned with the skills that colleges are demanding? More specifically, are Maryland’s high school mathematics standards aligned with the placement testing for mathematics used by the state’s community colleges and many of the four-year public colleges and universities?

This evaluation examines the correlation between the skills required to perform well on the Accuplacer college-placement tests and the content covered by the related high school mathematics courses as determined by Maryland’s Voluntary State Curriculum. It also evaluates the relevancy of the recently mandated High School Assessment for Algebra I/Data Analysis.