kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/12/10 - 9/19/10

Saturday, September 18, 2010

LD enrollment drops

After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why.

The percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students nationwide classified as having a “specific learning disability” dropped steadily from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08, according to the most recent data available, which come from the U.S Department of Education’s 2009 Digest of Education Statistics. In numbers, that’s a drop from about 2.9 million to 2.6 million students.

A learning disability—a processing disorder that impairs learning but not a student’s overall cognitive ability—is the largest, by far, of the 13 disability classifications recognized by the main federal special education law. Forty percent of the approximately 6.6 million students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, fall into that category.

The decrease in the category goes hand in hand with a decrease in special education enrollment overall, though that change is not as large. The percentage of all students covered under the IDEA fell from a high of 13.8 percent in the 2004-05 school year to 13.4 percent in 2007-08—from about 6.7 million students to about 6.6 million students. Enrollment in the categories of emotional disturbance and mental retardation also went down, but students in those groups make up a far smaller slice of the IDEA pie. At the same time, though, enrollment of students classified as having an autism spectrum disorder or “other health impairment” rose.


About 80 percent of children who are classified as learning-disabled get the label because they’re struggling to read. So, scholars say, the dropping numbers could be linked to improvements in reading instruction overall; the adoption of “response to intervention,” which is an instructional model intended to halt the emergence of reading problems; and a federally backed push toward early intervention with younger students before they’re labeled.

Learning-Disabled Enrollment Dips After Long Climb Up
by Christina A. Samuels
Education Week

words, diagrams, & math

Nick Rowe

12-week column on drawing

in the New York Times

Before I got sidetracked teaching myself math, I was learning to draw --- Loved it.

Also, I used to knit. I used to knit a lot. A friend of mine told me that knitting and math yield the same pleasures, and she turned out to be right. So I haven't knitted anything in 5 years, either.

I need a couple more lives besides just the one I've got.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

safety first

Coincidentally, we were discussing the "security" system here in my district at the very moment Ed and I were trekking back and forth to the U.S. Open.

At the Open, the threat level appears to be permanently set on orange and security is always high. Security is so high that, when I presented my bag for inspection, the gal behind the table said, "Is that a Kindle? You can't bring that in."


As Ed said, if you can take a Kindle on an airplane, which you can, you should be able to take a Kindle to the Open.

But no. I was supposed to hike two blocks -- uphill and in the sun -- back the way I came in 'til I got to a tent where I could pay another employee five bucks to check my Kindle.

Or, alternatively, I could walk a couple hundred yards back to the ladies' room, secrete my Kindle on my person, present my bag for inspection a second time, and enter the grounds without further ado. Which is what I did.

I told Ed, "Any security system that relies on terrorists to pay some guy five bucks to check his explosive device isn't a security system."

More anon.

lost in translation

caption: Fight fire with fire!
via: km-wordsmith

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

20 most common errors

The St. Martin's Handbook

Texas Tech University Writing Center

the 20 errors

Another rude awakening

Last year, my first-born was in enrolled in our local public school in second grade, and although he spent 6 or 7 hours there each day, he came home with tons of homework and a good deal more learning remaining. I started to think, “Why am I sending my kids to school, when the school sends them back to me to educate?” A friend later complained to me that when they gave her son a book report, it meant at least 5 hours of her own time working on it with him. Another parent told me how great the tutoring was at the chain store down the street from her. All this got me to thinking: if I’m ultimately in charge of my kids’ education, why do I feel so powerless? . . .

I assumed that the government knows best what, and how, to teach my kids. It’s an assumption I was raised with, one I never challenged, until now. Well, you know what they say about you when you assume…

“It’s always worse than you think?” Well, that’s what we often say around here.

Another parent gobsmacked by our public schools

Back to School: Part One

Monday, September 13, 2010

Testing in Basic Math in Community College

I finally got a copy of Teach Like a Champion. Since I teach at a community college, not everything applies. But I do teach a basic math class. And the book has inspired me to start taking data on my tests. This led me to analyze my tests to see what and how much I test on each topic.

At the end of the summer semester, I used the department written final to see if I could determine how much mastery my students had on each topic that I taught. Unfortunately, I don't have data from the beginning of the semester. But what I found wasn't very good: I measured the mastery on 15 topics by calculating a percent correct for each topic. For example, there were 5 problems on whole number operations and 11 students. This gives a total of 55 problems. Only 76% were answered correctly. If I had to take a guess, I would say that the class probably had over 70% mastery on whole number operations before they came into class. My highest % mastery was decimal operations, fraction operations and dimensional analysis with 93%, 85% and 93% mastery respectively. My lowest topics were divisibility tests and lowest common multiple and prime factorization. I then analyzed each incorrect answer to see what the most common errors were. 66% of the errors were concept errors: either the student didn't answer the question or did not use the correct mathematical technique. 19% of the errors were process error. In this category are errors like the following: a student knows that when multiplying mixed numbers, he must turn the mixed number into an improper fraction, but he does this incorrectly. 7% of the errors were mathematical. Another 8 % were divided evenly between not reducing fractions and sign errors.

So I'm teaching basic math again this semester, and I am trying to determine what I should be doing to ensure mastery. I am going to try curriculum based measurement. This is a technique I read about that is used in some elementary schools. You give students very short exams on a particular topic. Instead of counting the number of problems that are correct, you count the number of correct digits. For example, if a student has to add 99 and 49, there is a possibility of 3 correct digits, not one correct problem. You then do some number crunching and adjust your teaching accordingly. (I realize I'm gliding over this.)

It doesn't seem like any of the other instructors at my community college are collecting and analyzing data like this. If anyone has any links or resources on this topic, I would love to hear about it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another article (or two): Is it bad to test students frequently?

Two recent New York Times articles fly in the face of conventional pop psychology and education theory.

An article in last week's Science Section on study habits cites cognitive science research indicating that the act of taking a test can enhance learning:
The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.
As Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis puts it, “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it.”

Next we have a front page article in this weekend's Week in Review on Testing, the Chinese Way, written by Elisabeth Rosenthal, whose children spent a year at the International School of Beijing where "taking tests was as much a part of the rhythm of their school day as recess or listening to stories." Citing personal experience, Rosenthal argues that:

>Young children aren't necessarily aware that they are being "tested."

>Frequent tests give children important feedback about how they are doing.

>Frequent tests offer a more meaningful way to improve self-esteem than frequent praise does.

On this past point, Rosenthal cites Gregory J. Cizek, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
Professor Cizek, who started his career as a second-grade teacher, said the prevailing philosophy of offering young children unconditional praise and support was probably not the best prescription for successful education. “What’s best for kids is frequent testing, where even if they do badly, they can get help and improve and have the satisfaction of doing better."
Cizek's overall take on testing in schools? “Research has long shown that more frequent testing is beneficial to kids, but educators have resisted this finding:”

Rosenthal concludes on a particularly powerful note:
When testing is commonplace and the teachers are supportive — as my children’s were, for the most part — the tests felt like so many puzzles; not so much a judgment on your being, but an interesting challenge. It is a testament to the International School of Beijing — or to the malleability of childhood memory — that Andrew now says he did not realize that he was being tested. Will tests be like that in a national program, like Race to the Top?

When we moved back to New York City, my children, then 9 and 11, started at a progressive school with no real tests, no grades, not even auditions for the annual school musical. They didn’t last long. It turned out they had come to like the feedback of testing.

“How do I know if I get what’s going on in math class?” my daughter asked with obvious discomfort after a month. Primed with Beijing test-taking experience, they each soon tested into New York City’s academic public schools — where they have had tests aplenty and (probably not surprisingly) a high proportion of Asian classmates.