Record Journal, The

July 24, 2003

8th grade math scores increase dramatically over last year's numbers
By Nanette Galloway
Staff Writer

Hamilton Twp. - Efforts to improve dwindling mathematics scores on the Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment (GEPA) administered by the N.J. Department of Education each spring have paid off for students here. After two years of decline, there was an estimated 18-percent increase in the number of students passing the test this year.

Curriculum coordinator Ginger McBrair said scores on state assessments were up across the board this year. Students passed assessments in mathematics, language arts and science. "We went up in all areas," she said. "In math, it was a big jump, a fabulous jump."

More than 88 percent of the students taking the test scored proficient or advanced proficient in language arts; 72 percent passed in mathematics and 84.7 percent pass in science.

McBrair credited the efforts of teachers and administrators for the dramatic increase in math. "We went from 54 percent passing to 72 percent passing. We are really pleased to see such improvement."

Despite its efforts to improve the mathematics curriculum, school officials were at a loss to explain decreases in student performance in 2001 and 2002. Since the state started administering the test in 1999, student performance in the math portion of the test declined 16.8 percent to 54.3 percent passing last year.

McBrair said the district implemented a comprehensive program to improve instruction in math, including offering students more opportunities to get help after school. "This year, we were able to pull it all together," she said.

Teachers met in teams every month to coordinate lesson plans and evaluate their students to determine if instruction needed to be tailored to overcome their deficiencies.

"They analyzed the data to provide the proper instructional techniques for each of these students," McBrair said.

Borderline students received an extended math period of 70 minutes instead of the usual 42-minute math class and eight after-school programs were developed to offer students homework help.

"Teachers prepared a lot of extra problem-solving lessons for the students to use in the after-school programs," she said.

The district also purchased a new math textbook series for the middle school level and enlisted the help of educational consultant Betsy McShea of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to write a new curriculum.

The number of students performing in the advanced proficient category with a score of 200 or in higher also increased, from 20 in 2002 to 55 this year, McBrair said.

This year, 229 students took the tests during a week in March. In addition to a 17.7 percent increase in the percentage of students passing mathematics, the number of students passing language arts increased 5.4 percent and 3.7 percent in science over last year.