Home > Algebra 1, Algebra 2 > Pacing using Backwards Design and State Tests

Pacing using Backwards Design and State Tests

Every summer I try to evaluate the classes I taught and how I taught them.  I’m sure that most teachers do this.  It doesn’t hurt that in Tennessee teachers receive their TVAAS evaluation scores in June, which provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how our students performed on the End of Course state tests.  I was pleased with my students’ performance this year, but I know that I should never get comfortable.  Next year, I will be teaching a grade level Algebra 2 for the first time and the End of Course for this class is a beast!  My main concern for this group of students is pacing.  I never want a student to walk into an End of Course feeling unprepared because of something I did or didn’t teach. 

The first thing I did before I taught Algebra 2 was look at the End of Course test issued by Tennessee.  If you have an End of Course test for your state, you should start there.  I learned this many years ago in College when the buzzwords of the time were ‘backwards design’.  I now know they aren’t just buzzwords, but a great way to plan anything.  When I met with a personal trainer several years ago for the first time, his first question was, “What is your final goal?”  This goal dictated my workouts, schedule, and diet.  As teachers I feel like we should ask ourselves, “What is our final goal for our students?”  My answer is different for each class.  For several classes, my answer is that I want them to hate math less when they leave my class.  For my honors classes, it is to be prepared for the next level.  For my End of Course classes, it is to pass the state test.  I hate to reduce my class to a single test at the end of the year, but my job depends on it.

The first thing I did to help students pass the test is analyze the test.  I looked at each test and recorded the number of times the state asked questions on certain topics.  Pearson stresses that Tennessee provides them with a blueprint for what questions to select and how many and that the sample test is a good model of this. 

In Algebra 2, the Tennessee End of Course has 9 questions on Statistics.  I used to squeeze this section in at the end of my class if I had time, but with the state putting so much emphasis on this topic on the test, I felt it was necessary for me to place importance on it in my class.  The Algebra 2 End of Course has one question on Conic Sections.  I love Conic Sections!  I still teach them, but I do not spend the two weeks on them that I used to spend on them.  We now focus two to three days on them in Algebra 2.  The students who really need them will see them again in Pre Calculus.

Here is my analysis of the Tennessee Algebra 1 EOC test.

Here is my analysis of the Tennessee Algebra 2 EOC test.

After I prioritized my list of topics or standards, I try to fit them into a semester long calendar.  I created this one page document that lays out my entire semester in one glance.  It allows me to start my planning for the entire year and make sure everything ‘fits’ in by the End of Course test.  The worst feeling is to be two weeks from the test and realize you have 4 chapters left to cover.  I fill in the boxes on the page in pencil with the standard or lesson I plan on teaching that day.  It is an evolving document, so I erase and change often.  This paper stays in the front of my lesson plan book all semester.  I try to always keep my eye on the big picture or goal for my class. 

I know that some teachers would argue that ‘covering’ the material is not sufficient enough.  I agree.  I try to not just cover the material, but look at it in as much depth as possible on a limited time schedule.  I do not teach all of the standards equally, because not all of the standards are weighted equally on the test.  Yes, there are some things that get left out.  As a professional, it is my job to make those decisions. 

I wish someone would have walked me through this pacing process as a student teacher.  Instead, I was handed a pacing guide and said this is what you will teach and how long you will teach it.  I never had input nor did I give it much thought.  I now make my own pacing guides.  I know I may lose this freedom soon.  I fear the days of standardized learning are coming, but until then, I will continue to pace my students in way so they can be successful.

Categories: Algebra 1, Algebra 2
  1. Betsy Gilbert
    June 21, 2012 at 2:37 am


    Thanks for the document!! I was just thinking about the fact that I should get started on my pacing guide soon! I usually do nothing related to school during the month of June but hit it hard come July. Now, I can just print your calendar off and start from there, so thanks! Isn’t it awful that we really only have 72 days to teach so many objectives and I don’t know about your school but mine seems to always have “meetings”, “pep rallies”, etc. that take away even more days of teaching time. It is very frustrating. I will be teaching an Algebra II Inclusion this year as well as four grade level Algebra II classes so I am terrified as to how I will get through everything. But my philosophy is I must at least expose them to everything so therefore my pace must be brisk. It should make for a every “interesting” and stressful semester. Good luck to us both!

  2. C. H.
    August 28, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Thank you so much for the documents! I am a first year teacher, teaching with 3 other teachers who have never taught Algebra II before, and we are struggling to find a pacing guide that is fair to the students (doesn’t move on before their ready) but also exposes them to all of the material. I would love to see what topics you cover when, for how long, and if there are topics in the book that you skip. We could all use the help! I will definitely continue to be reading up on your blog to keep learning from you 🙂


    • August 28, 2012 at 12:54 am

      Thank you so much for reading my blog. I really hope the information helps you. Below is the link for my Algebra 2 standards list. We use the Pearson textbook. I normally spend one day per standard unless the students struggle and I need to reteach it.

      I do skip binomial expansion. There is normally no more than one question on the EOC and my students really struggle with the idea. I try to combine as many topics as possible and teach as much on the calculator as possible.

      I try to give an assessment over two lessons every two to three days. This way if a majority of the students do not have a firm grasp, I can stop and reteach. I hate the idea of waiting for a chapter test and realizing a week after I have taught something that my students do not understand. Giving smaller assessments more frequently tends to help this problem. Good luck!

  3. Betsy Gilbert
    October 25, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Amber, how are you doing with your pacing in your regular Algebra II. I have two regular and one inclusion class this semester! No honors, so I am terrified about my scores. I am finishing polynomials at the beginning of next week. Then I still have radicals (although I have already done some radical with quadratics), rational expressions, trig, series/sequence, probability, and logarithms. I don’t spend as much time on the last three topics but time is flying. I don’t think they are remembering enough and these kids can’t even punch numbers into the calculator correctly so it’s a sobering thought! Geeze! Just wondering where you are in your regular class?

    • October 26, 2012 at 12:58 am

      Hi Betsy, I am testing radicals tomorrow. I still have to teach them rational exponents. This is a grade level class. I was terrified about my scores, but I checked their TVAAS data and I think I can get them to hit their projections. The projections didn’t seem unrealistic. I still have to cover everything you listed as well. I think I have decided that I am going to teach radicals before quadratics next semester. It made it difficult to teach quadratics because the students couldn’t remember how to simplify radicals. I am a little stressed since this is my first non honors Algebra 2 class. I feel like I’m in a race to the finish. Good luck!

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