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Math success: Federal Way School Board seeks district-wide goals

It's still in the theoretical stages, but school board members are exploring what successful math programs in Federal Way should look like.

The board met Feb. 17 at its bimonthly work study to start pinpointing goals for students to achieve in math before graduation. The discussion was requested to take a closer look at math results outside of the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning), coinciding with the board's ongoing discussion on "Standards Based Education."

The idea is to move away from a single test or test checkpoint mentality that many districts and the state employ to determine graduation requirements. Standards Based Education would still use tests. However, there may be several tests that check whether students are meeting criteria the district sets.

"This change is a monumental change," Superintendent Tom Murphy said.

This week's discussion was on math, which has troubled the district and state. Many students struggle to pass the math WASL, which the state has continually pushed back as a graduation requirement. Achievement gaps in math have also plagued the school district.

On Wednesday, board members and the superintendent came up with goals for students as a way to measure math success. Board president Tony Moore wanted every child to be college ready, while vice-president Angela Griffin wanted students passing the WASL and district assessments. Murphy wanted students to be successful in Algebra 2 and beyond.

Currently, the state requires that students complete through Algebra 1.

"Our kids need help," said Josh Garcia, Teaching for Learning director. "At the end of the day, our kids have to meet the standards you set. The state has not been strong enough to do that."

Good news, bad news

On the upside, 84 percent of the school district's seniors were already passing the state's requirements to graduate, with a semester left for students to finish their courses, according to statistics by the district. Only 59 percent of black students at Federal Way High School passed their first semester of math, along with 56 percent of Hispanics. In comparison, at Federal Way Public Academy, 100 percent of black students passed.

The district also has a fairly low percentage of students enrolled in advanced math classes.

About 33.1 percent of all the students at Decatur High School, 28.6 percent at Federal Way High School, 39.2 percent at Thomas Jefferson High School and 45.7 percent at Todd Beamer High School are currently enrolled in advanced math class — for an overall district average of 37 percent. However, these numbers can be a bit misleading because they do not count students in the Cambridge or Running Start programs. Students in Running Start may be taking a math class at the college level that counts for advanced math.

Goals

After taking this information and more, the board members will begin to set goals for the students. Once they have given the staff some direction, the staff will in turn come back some recommendations for policy change.

"Now is the time to do the right thing," Garcia said after showing the "Braveheart" clip of the "I am William Wallace" speech. "Value more than just this single test. Our staff will fight for the right reasons...your job is to find out those reasons."

"The lynchpin for all of this is clear standards," Murphy said. "A reasonable number of very clear standards."

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