As Maryland attempts to increase the rigor of math education, the first results of an Algebra II test given to a small number of students in the state show less than one in five are prepared for entry-level college courses.

Fifteen states, including Maryland, joined together in 2005 to take part in the American Diploma Project, an effort to raise academic standards and graduation requirements for high schools around the country.

The Algebra II test was given to 100,000 students across the nation, including 1,295 in Maryland, and showed that nationwide, 15 percent are prepared for their first college course. The Maryland pass rate was equivalent to the national pass rate.

The Diploma Project was a collaborative effort to create end-of-course exams in Algebra I and Algebra II. Maryland gave the test for the first time last spring in school systems where local superintendents agreed to have their students take part. A significant number of students taking the test were from Baltimore, according to Maureen Moran, director of the office of academic policy at the Maryland State Department of Education.

While the results could be seen as discouraging, the test was hard to pass, according to Sandy Boyd, a vice president at Achieve, a national organization that created the Diploma Project and aims to raise standards at the nation's high schools.

The Algebra II test was not expected to be used as an end-of-course test that would be required for graduation - as the Algebra I test is - so the states could make it as rigorous as experts in the field thought it should be. Boyd said that after writing the test, they brought in math professors and teachers to advise them on what students would need to know to enter college and be able to move directly into credit-bearing math courses.

"The states got together wanting to improve the quality and consistency of algebra courses," she said.

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