An analysis of the impact and focus of preparation efforts to improve student performance on the Stanford Nine mathematics test
The District of Columbia Public School System uses the results of the Stanford Nine mathematics test to determine if students have acquired functional and advanced skills in mathematics. The impact of the student's performance on this test is significant, for the testing outcome may impact a student's eligibility to graduate from high school and the careers of educators involved with this process can be negatively affected. In fact, poor test scores have already resulted in teacher transfers, principal firings, and total school transformations. The Stanford Nine mathematics test scores for high school students are very low. A student's performance falls in one of three categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. For the last three years, nearly 80% of the students tested fell in the Below Basic category. Hence, the motivation for this research was to document how schools are preparing students for the test and record what kind of impact that test preparation efforts are having on teachers and students. Intensive interviewing revealed that students and teachers feel that they are unfairly pressured to reach testing goals although they are not provided the necessary time or resources to succeed. Many of the students admitted that they do not take the test seriously because their performance on the test does not positively or negatively impact their immediate academic standing in school. The research outcomes did not support the assumption that test score differences were due to varying teaching methods. The teachers interviewed from the four high schools offered similar strategies for attacking typical Stanford Nine mathematics problems, and some of the schools used the same strategy to engage the entire student population in test readiness activities. The results of a sample test administered to high school students from the four schools showed a strong relationship between test scores and socio-economic factors; the schools whose students were products of poor neighborhoods generally posted lower test scores. Also, hypothesis testing results indicated that there was not a significant relationship between grades and sample test scores. It is apparent that a plan to improve Stanford Nine mathematics scores for high school students will require a comprehensive effort that involves social as well as educational reforms. Higher test scores will become a reality if students are held accountable for their performance, if parents are motivated to support the educational process more aggressively, and if educators continue to embrace effective test preparation strategies.