Monday, February 27, 2012

Can Math Learn from History?

That's the Truth Truth
Holy $#!%, We Are Bad Teachers

Having written twice previously about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher of an SOL course in the posts above, I thought it appropriate to revisit the topic given some changes that occur this year.  Throughout this post, I share some old and new math SOL questions with commentary for your testing pleasure.

With the revision of the State Standards in Social Studies last year, our scores plummeted.  To make a long story short history teachers, including myself,  came out smelling really bad in our state.  More than other subjects, we are hamstrung by either the inability or unwillingness of the state to make the tests more transparent(they did release a whopping 7 questions to help us out and demonstrate how things are different).   I guess that's not all bad because we can't "teach to the test" as much, but it doesn't help our student's scores.   Not only has the VDOE released fewer past test and test questions, they have done little to clarify or define scoring and performance practices for history in more concrete terms.    It makes my job harder, hurts kids and confuses parents. 

What did I miss?  Why does Isiah have erasers in his pocket?
Not much has changed since last February within our subject and there have been no obvious efforts at the state level to improve the situation from last year.    These standards and how they are measured with the corresponding Standards of Learning(SOL) tests are as much a puzzle as ever.  No further developments in terms of Detailed Performance Level Descriptions to explain things to parents.  Social Studies isn't even listed. 

As a department within our school we certainly looked at our individual results and are doing our best to adapt.  This is true of every subject area but when they change the test, it is tough.   Increasingly it seems no matter how hard we try or how well we do, it will be defined as not good enough.  I suppose the higher ups in Richmond just figured we'll deal with this and get it figured out.  I do not intentionally malign them, but at the least they are far distant from anything resembling the educational front lines.  They sure don't seem to solicit or consider teacher feedback.   If they did they'd be motivated to end the cat and mouse game that such high stakes testing has become.    So social studies teachers are doing our best to manage.

Can't we just see if 5th graders can do  421 + 619 =_________
This year it is the math standards and tests that have changed.  So what would I say to Virgina's math teachers... "uh oh".   Math tests will measure new standards that "include technology-enhanced items that require students to demonstrate content mastery in ways that were not possible with multiple-choice tests."  So these tests are harder, more rigorous and take much longer to complete.  They are more wordy and for kids with poor reading skills, the climb becomes even steeper.  If things play out in math like they did in social studies, it'll get rough. Math matters for AYP after all.  Maybe that's why they shared some SOL Practice Items.  I don't follow this stuff too closely but as score reports from first semester start to trickle out, the whispers in the woods are that things don't look good. 

I like Fred, he fishes, but the creel limit on bass in VA is 2 per day
Which brings me to my not-so-bold prediction.  Math scores for the 2011-2012 cycle will encounter a precipitous drop.   Not sure how that will play out but I suspect it will prove significant.  Virginia's math teachers and most importantly our students will not look good.   Throw in the new "college ready achievement level" on certain end-of-course tests and the table is set for kids to not feel good about how they are doing.

Across the nation and in particular in VA there is an effort to develop STEM(science, technology, engineering and math) education.  I wonder how these results will affect that effort. How will this play out in the media?  Can we afford even more focus shifted to math at the expense of other subjects?   I think back to my own high school experiences in math and can speak with certainty that more math is not always good for everyone.  When I see my former math teacher walking down the hall, I still just apologize.  Honest.

Parents, students, the media, principles and politicians all will react differently to drops in math scores.  But be certain, teachers are the ones who will need to react the most such a scenario. Such is the Value added world that came to Virginia in 2011.  Will this lead to better math instruction?  Or will it result in more focus on the test and prepping for it?  Time will tell what the result of such an emphasis will be. 

I like orange Lollipops. Does that matter?
In November the VDOE shared a release that indicated math scores for VA students were improving on the NAEP .  What's bad about that is that it will mean little to principals, teachers and parents when the scores start rolling in.  I am glad I am not a math teacher(I've always been glad of this actually).  So under NCLB, AYP and Race to the Top, Math is far more important than history.  It counts.  But as subjects they are equal.  I feel for young math teachers.  The slow removal of protections of due process and tenure like those proposed this year in our General Assembly have been well documented and I think the landscape of the future for young math teachers will be especially perilous.  Growth Percentiles will be skewed by the change.

The letter below is an effort by one knowledgeable administrator to try and prepare parents for the questions that will certainly arise from an almost certain decline. 

 So to my math colleagues I say, "I feel your pain."

Who cares?  The carnival is the same night as the Justin Bieber concert.

Not only do I not know the answer, but I've decided to never buy flowers again.  Keanu Reeves was good in The Matrix.


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