kitchen table math, the sequel: What Philadelphia 5th graders should know how to do

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Philadelphia 5th graders should know how to do

I recently came into possession of one the Philadelphia School District Parent Teacher Brochures, which breaks down the goals that each Philadelphia School District student should be able to meet by the end of each grade level.  Since I'm homeschooling my 5th grade daughter, I was particularly interested in the goals for fifth grade. And I was shocked, shocked, to find myself more baffled than enlightened after reading through these goals.

The language arts goals are all about process, purposes, and genres, with a developmentally inappropriate assignment thrown in in the form of a research project:
•Continue to build a reading, writing and speaking vocabulary
•Read to learn new information
•Read a wide range of stories, books and magazines for enjoyment
•Understand a problem or conflict in stories or books and talk or write about an appropriate solution
•Make connections between stories and texts that they have read and the world around them
•Tell and/ or write a summary that gives the main idea of what they read and the most important details or events
•Complete a research project including a written report
•Write stories with several paragraphs
•Write poems, plays, and reports
Not a word about specific reading skills (vocabulary level, sentence complexity, making deductions and bridging inferences within the context of the text) or writing skills (grammar and punctuation, sentence construction, paragraph construction).

As for the math goals, most are vague ("compute" and "find the relationships"), easy (locating numbers on a number line; comparing numbers; sorting shapes), and emphasize verbal explanations over mathematical performance. Four out of the 13 goals are about data and probability. Here the developmentally inappropriate goal (especially given what isn't covered here) involves algebra:
• Compute and find the relationships using whole numbers, fractions, and decimals
• Locate positive and negative numbers on a number line (integers)
• Explain to you what prime numbers, factors, multiples and compositie numbers mean
• Compare numbers (equal to, greater than, and less than)
• Collect, organize, display, and analyze data in a variety of ways
• Find mean (average), median (middle number), mode (most frequent) and range (difference between largest and smallest) of data
• Predict or determine all possible combinations and outcomes, such as, "How many outfits can be created with six shirts and eight pants?"
• Calculate the chance of a simple event happening
• Use a variety of methods to solve for unknown quantities in simple one-step algebra equations (solve for x)
• Sort polygons according to their properties and angles, such as triangles, rhombi, and parallelograms
• Define and compare perimeter (distance around) and area (amount covered inside) of shapes
• Understand properties of a circle
• Explain how they solved a math problem in their own words.
Not a word about which computation skills the child should develop, what sorts of numbers, fractions, and decimals the child should be able to do computations on (perhaps only the "friendly" fractions and decimals), and what level of computational fluency the child should have. Not a word about multiplication tables, long division, repeating decimals, ratios and percents, and multi-step word problems.

Turning to science, only one substantive topic is mentioned (solar energy) and goals pertaining to it remain vague ("build an understanding;" "recognize"). Most the goals pertain to process rather than achievement, many of them involving developmentally inappropriate activities that wrongly assume that children can function as little scientists:
• Develop skills that will emphasize the five senses while doing science
• Use prior knowledge when making observations
• Make predictions and hypotheses based on observations
• Design investigations with a control and one or two variables
• Gather, organize and display data independently
• Build an understanding of how solar energy is transferred
• Recognize that the sun is the main source of energy for people and they use it in various ways
• Design and conduct experiments with variables. Students should be able to explain cause and effect
• Study the relationship in an ecosystem that shows the relationship of an organism to its environment
• Conduct hands-on investigations to discover and understand their world
• Record observations in science notebooks
It would seem that, "goals" aside, the Philadelphia Schools are avoiding any commitment to help your 5th grader increase his or her vocabulary, reading level, sentence construction skills, or computational fluency with "unfriendly" numbers; or learn any scientific content other than a few vague propositions about solar energy.

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field).


Ram said...

Great post, Any suggestions on the books to improve reading comprehension skills for 3-5 graders ? Thanks

Laura said...

One of the first things I did, when I started homeschooling my daughter in 4th grade, was download my school district's standards. It was pretty much the same as what was in Katherine's post, if not wordier.

Slogging through the district website, I did manage to find information on specific areas for science and social studies that were "recommended" for each grade, and even some useful ideas for labs and projects. Website links were included.

All of this was taken down however, once the Common Core Standards (CCS) were adopted in Arizona. In its place are powerpoint presentations on how teachers are to implement the new programs and a brief definition of CCS. That's it.

I guess parents don't really need to know what's being taught at their local school any longer, not even in "educationese."

Kevin Light said...

California's content standards are better. More concrete language:

2.1 Add, subtract, multiply, and divide with decimals; add with negative integers; subtract positive integers from negative integers; and verify the reasonableness of
the results.

2.2 Demonstrate proficiency with division, including division with positive decimals and long division with multidigit divisors.

2.3 Solve simple problems, including ones arising in concrete situations, involving the
addition and subtraction of fractions and mixed numbers (like and unlike denomi­nators of 20 or less), and express answers in the simplest form.

2.4 Understand the concept of multiplication and division of fractions.

2.5 Compute and perform simple multiplication and division of fractions and apply these procedures to solving problems.

Allison said...

the common core standards for math are here:

in math, they are quite good for grades k-8. if you are using singapore's primary mathematics stds edition, you're mostly in line with them, though it's still worth reading to understand the progression.

Crimson Wife said...

I would hope that the multiplication tables would be covered earlier than 5th (like in 2nd & 3rd as California's standards have) and ditto for long division.

Laura said...

Personally, I have kept up with the Common Core Standards debate and what the various standards are. I'm interested in it...

However, the school district doesn't explicitly state what these standards are any longer. It does not provide a direct link for parents to find these standards written out in an easy to read format. The individual school sites provide nothing about the curriculum they are using, and don't like to discuss it if you call and ask about it.

It's like a state secret or something.

Jennie said...

You asked for a book recommendation, but here is an online program recommendation:
Headsprout Comprehension. It is specifically for grades 3-5 (for those who can really read at a 3rd grade level).

SteveH said...

The Common Core Standards will not cause Everyday Math or Investigations to go away. They are too vague. One might hope that mastery of basic skills will be enforced on a grade-by-grade basis, but the standards say nothing about that.

In going back over the standards, I tried to focus on what they really expect for mastery of basic skills. They never use the word mastery. They use the lesser terms fluency or proficiency. Nobody argues against balance, but few reformists and standards explicitly say what that is.

The Common Core Standards are filled with words like understand, solve, recognize, write, interpret, analyze, use, apply, and represent. They don't specify any level of mastery. However, it's clear that they mean something when they use the word "fluent". It's carefully used in the standards. Still, they don't calibrate that or say what a school should do if a student doesn't meet that criterion.

So here is their list of "fluent" requirements and their grades. I added in more if they seemed like a requirement.


Fluently add and subtract within 5.

Second Grade

Fluently add and subtract within 20.

Fluently add and subtract within 100 using strategies based on place
value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between
addition and subtraction.

Third Grade

Fluently add and subtract within 1000.

By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

Fourth Grade

Fluently add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.

Fifth Grade

Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.

Sixth Grade

Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm.

Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.

That's it.

Clearly, they mean something by the term fluency, and clearly, they mean something less for the rest of the words. When you read the document, you might think that the words mean mastery, but you really won't know that until you review the details of the implemented curriculum.

So Everyday Math can continue to trust the spiral as long as their content matches the standards document. Life will go on pretty much the same, and the students who have proper grade-level mastery of math will be the ones who have parents ensuring that learning gets done at home.

The worst part of all of this is that the skills part of the balance equation is relatively easy to achieve for most kids, while still leaving plenty of time for all of their fuzzy concepts of education.