kitchen table math, the sequel: Barry G at Room for Debate

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Barry G at Room for Debate

The recently released national math test scores for 2009 are part of a growing body of lackluster results nationwide since the inception of the No Child Left Behind law. The exam, which has been deemed the “gold standard” of testing is hardly what one would call challenging with respect to math, and yet even so, the scores are barely indicative of a pulse.

With the prospect that all students may not achieve proficiency by 2014, finger pointing naturally ensues. Some will contend that we need to go to “authentic testing” that measures how well students use prior knowledge in new situations. This would take the form of open-ended, generally ill-posed problems that allow students to gain points just for attempting to guess an answer. With process trumping content, students would surely show gains, but in the end we still have to ask whether the intents of No Child Left Behind will have been realized. And the answer would most likely be a resounding “no,” though everyone would feel good about the test scores.

What is needed is not another test, but sound mathematics instruction that stresses content over process. The education establishment needs to understand that even process is based on skills and exercises, and a logical sequence of topics whose mastery builds upon itself. We need solid math curricula and textbooks that are based on the premise that procedural fluency leads to conceptual understanding. Problem solving does not exist independently of exercises. The belief that content-based math teaches only definitions and procedures needs to be abandoned.


SteveH said...

Another opinion from Barry's link:

"These latest tests results say something about the culture of standardized testing. While the unrelenting press on teachers to raise scores can succeed in stoking the basic literacy and math skills of weak students, Washington’s accountability regime can’t take students to the next level. And mechanical forms of testing are not the right tool to gauge the acquisition of complex forms of learning. It’s little wonder that good teachers are leaving the profession when political leaders judge their worth solely by their ability to drill-and-kill material that appears on stultifying tests."

"Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at University of California, Berkeley, is author of 'Standardized Childhood: The Political and Cultural Struggle Over Early Education.'"

What is 6 * 7?


I am truly astonished that few look at the actual tests. Why let facts get in the way of a good opinion?

My first encounter with this was at a school open house that told parents about the state's standardized testing. Nobody looked at the questions on the test. In fact, they thought it was odd that I wanted to see the actual test questions. And to this day, I still don't know the exact formula they use to convert the extremely low raw percent correct scores into the fuzzy proficiency index (usually between 80 - 95%) Bad looking numbers get changed into good looking numbers. So parents looked at these funny numbers and only saw if they went up or down. They lost all connection with any real world or absolute scale.

SteveH said...

This is another comment by the same person.

"Secretary Duncan’s strategy — so far, oddly pulled from George W. Bush’s playbook — aims to experiment with promising innovations, especially those charter schools that consistently boost achievement, and rewarding strong teachers with cash incentives. But reliance on market remedies will do little to attract new teachers who care deeply about children’s growth, or to enrich the craft of mindful teachers."

This is completely unsupported. Actually, it's meaningless.

Now I have to go and figure out what the heck "mindful" teaching is. I have a brother-in-law who is getting into Buddhism and it's really annoying to get the lecture. I glad he is so excited, but he should really be mindful of his own business.

But what, great master, is 6 * 7?

Ommmmmmmmmmm. It's 7 * 6.

Anonymous said...

"Some will contend that we need to go to 'authentic testing' that measures how well students use prior knowledge in new situations."

*Some* will, but not me!

My proposal is that we set the score required for 'proficient' at zero.

There. Problem solved.

[Some might think I'm kidding. I'm not. I actually wrote to one of the California legislators suggesting this very strategy when California was having its big argument over its high school exit exam. What I especially like about my approach is that it is *HONEST*]

-Mark Roulo