Math failures high

March 13, 2003, midnight | By Han Hu | 18 years, 3 months ago

Students flunk exam, not course

Large numbers of Blair students failed their first semester math exams, as MCPS considers increasing the weight of final exams in determining students' semester grades.

Approximately 40 percent of all non-Magnet students failed their math final exams, yet only 11 percent of students failed their first semester courses.
Under MCPS' proposal to raise the weight of exams from 25 to 30 percent, some students would have received lower grades for the semester.

Assistant Principal Linda Wanner was displeased with the exam results. "Anything over a 25 percent failure rate is totally unacceptable," said Wanner.

According to geometry teacher Stephen Foster, the geometry exam did not match up with the curriculum guide for the course. Foster believes exam topics were disproportionately covered in relation to the coursework, making the exams "unfair" and not an accurate measure of students' knowledge.

Math Resource Teacher Barbara Hofman said that students are not studying hard enough for finals, which are difficult because of their cumulative nature. If exams were worth more, students would take them more seriously, said Hofman, who says the math department strongly supports MCPS' proposal to increase final exams' weight.

However, Blair PTSA President Marilyn Schoenfeld believes students who take higher-level math courses generally study hard for exams because they are more serious about getting into good colleges. Therefore, increasing the exams' weight would not necessarily improve student performance.

Many students, such as junior Michael Weiss, are against increasing the final exams' weight. Weiss believes doing so would overemphasize the value of exams. "I think it's a bad idea to base a big part of your grade on one two-hour test," he said.

In math teacher Milton Roth's two AP Calculus classes, more than 20 percent of his students failed their final exams, but no one failed the course because final exams currently count as only 25 percent of a student's semester grade.

Roth, who says the high failure rate is nothing new, attributes the problem partly to the grading scale. According to Roth, the MCPS calculus finals are modeled and graded like AP Calculus exams but are scored so that 90 to 100 percent receives an ‘A.' On the AP exams, a grade of 75 percent would receive a 5, the highest possible score.

Hofman believes the math curricula do not emphasize interrelationships between different concepts enough, so students often find the final exams harder than the tests they take during the semester. "A lot of [math teachers] feel that there is too much information in piecemeal with no connection between the material. The students get to be jack-of-all-trades but master of none," she said.

Peter Barrow, a geometry teacher, believes the high failure rate is due to students often being placed in math classes for which they are "not adequately prepared."

Despite the poor exam results, the failure rate was lower this year than last in many subjects, said Hofman.

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Han Hu. Han Hu, a senior in Blair's Magnet program, is very excited to serve as Managing News Editor on the Silver Chips staff. Aside from Chips, he is also a member of Blair's mock trial team, where he enjoys delivering cases at the county courthouse before … More »

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