ST. PAUL -- If more exposure to math means better math test scores, an admittedly obvious point driven home Thursday by Education Department officials, expect passing rates to climb in coming years.
Beginning with the Class of 2008, all high students must pass three math courses before graduation. The state currently has no minimum course requirement.
Officials underscored the need for the new standard as they released a batch of test scores and an accompanying analysis identifying schools with some of the strongest scores as the ones where students took more math classes.
Statewide, 79 percent of last year's 11th-graders performed at or above grade level on the tests given in April. Results of a reading exam given to 10th graders showed 81 percent demonstrating or exceeding grade-level proficiency.
To Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke, the ramifications of more-math call extend beyond the test results. She noted that students who complete higher-level math courses are better-prepared for college while those who bypass challenging courses in high school can get stuck taking remedial courses later on.
"Parents, I urge you to encourage your children to take challenging math classes," Yecke said.
In the future, they won't have much choice. As part of Minnesota's academic standards rewrite, the state established credit requirements for high school students in math, language arts, science and social studies. Once this year's eighth graders reach high school, they will have to either complete or test out of three math classes to get a diploma.
Some school districts set the bar that high now.
Dassel-Cokato Senior High School is being held up as a math model. Better than 90 percent of students passed and the average score was well above the state average.
Jon Ring, a math teacher there for 12 years, said there was concern at first about trying to fit the math in to student schedules. But he doesn't hear many complaints now.
Teachers work to make the subject relevant to students who aren't mathematically inclined, he said.
"We look to that when we buy textbooks: 'Does it have real-life applications?"' Ring said. "We've got to have things that are applicable."
Geometry students help figure out carpeting dimensions for a model home that shop students build, for instance.
The department praised Dassel-Cokato and 16 other high-performing schools. There were some common themes among the high performers.
For example, they required more math for graduation and their districts guided students into advanced courses earlier, including making algebra a middle-school offering.
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