kitchen table math, the sequel: The 80% Commandment

Friday, November 21, 2008

The 80% Commandment

The relationship between students’ accuracy with schoolwork and their subsequent behavior is described by the 80% Commandment: “Thou shall not expect a student to do a learning task when he or she does not have the skills to complete the task with 80% success. Otherwise, that student will either act out or tune out.” Today’s frustrated students who lack basic skills most often respond by acting out.

Managing Unmanageable Students
Elaine McEwan-Adkins & Mary Damer

Tattoo that to your forehead.

constructivism as masked aggression
the 80% rule


Catherine Johnson said...

I'm semi-serious about the tattoo.

Kids here (in our public school) are routinely given work that is far, far over their heads.

C.'s response was always to tune out; then that would be viewed as a character flaw Ed and I were "working on."

If I'd known this statistic going into the middle school I would have been able to quantify what was wrong.

I would have been able to argue much more effectively that the problem was the teaching, curriculum, & school culture -- NOT the kids.

Catherine Johnson said...

Giving kids work far over their head is SOP with "top-down" constructivist teaching in general, as it is practiced in the real world.

The 80% commandment explains why constructivism is not a very nice thing to do to children.

SteveH said...

It's a win-win situation for schools. They can claim the higher ground of expecting kids to think (put one and one together to get five), and they can blame the students for just about everything.

One of my son's teachers talked about scaffolding to demonstrate her support of student learning, but she was talking only about scaffolding of the process. When I mentioned that my son just doesn't have the background content knowledge (scaffolding) to do the task, she just brushed it off. Basically, she said that he has to try. Bad teaching is not bad teaching, apparently. It's an opportunity to help kids think.

Yesterday, I had a student-parent conference with my son at school. There was no opportunity to question or discuss content or teaching methods with the teacher. It was all about goals my son had to set.

Saying that learning is difficult is an excuse. Look at the actual test questions. NAEP has a great site for this. You can see the questions and the results breakdown. The questions are trivial. Learning this information is just not that difficult, and there is no justification for making the process more difficult. Can true understanding and mastery be achieved only with a struggle? Of course not.

Math, at this level, is just not that difficult. You can't look at the difficulties a fifth grade teacher might have with kids who don't have the necessary skills for the new material. Schools have to start in first grade to see how badly things are screwed up. Schools have to see exactly what parents are doing at home. This is not difficult information to obtain. Schools have to look at exactly why some kids do well and some kids don't. However, parent-supported kids are the best excuse for schools. They don't want to know this information.

Pissedoffteacher said...

That is the understatement of the year. This term I am teaching geometry to kids with no algebra skills and kids who have trouble reading. The poor kids are frustated beyond hope.

But, NCLB says every child must take this stuff.

My old principal changed grades of every kid who squeaked by with a 65 on the regents from failing to passing and my school is in a real mess because of this.

Catherine Johnson said...

pissed off - this is probably a dumb question, but what did he do, exactly?

These were kids who got just below a 65? (65 is the cut-off, right? 65 is a pass?)

I'm going to pull this up front if you don't mind. (I'll take it down if you'd prefer it stay as a comment.)

Tracy W said...

But, NCLB says every child must take this stuff.

Really? What provision in the act says that?

I thought that NCLB simply obliged states to set each level of achievement and set a sliding scale for how many students must pass the achievement tests.

Also, of course, the idea behind NCLB was to stop kids getting through years of schooling still unable to read properly (with the exception of course of the 1% exemption for children with severe cognitive disabilities). I hardly see that the fact that your school system is letting them through without learning is the NCLB's fault.

Catherine Johnson said...

NCLB doesn't apply to high schools, does it?

I don't think NY state kids have to take geometry. They have to take Math A & pass Regents, but as Pissed Off says, the cut score is 65.

She's written about this a number of times; kids are passing Regents & thinking that means they're prepared to go on to the next course in the sequence.

This is an issue I'm dealing with in my own district now, or trying to. (More on that later.)

Barry Garelick said...


According to the info on NCLB on Dept of Ed's web site:

"No Child Left Behind requires that, by the 2005-06 school year, each state must measure every child's progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12. In the meantime, each state must meet the requirements of the previous law reauthorizing ESEA (the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994) for assessments in reading and math at three grade spans (3-5; 6-9; and 10-12). By school year 2007-2008, states must also have in place science assessments to be administered at least once during grades 3-5; grades 6-9; and grades 10-12. Further, states must ensure that districts administer tests of English proficiency--to measure oral language, reading and writing skills in English--to all limited English proficient students, as of the 2002-03 school year."

Anonymous said...

>>I don't think NY state kids have to take geometry. They have to take Math A & pass Regents

NY students all have to pass three units of Math and one Regents exam - either the Math A & Math B sequence or the IA1, Geo & IA2/Trig sequence fi they wish to pursue the Regents diploma. For the Regents w/Advanced Designation diploma, they have to score well enough on the Regents exam for each course.

Catherine Johnson said...

So - have I got this right?

What I've been told here is that Math A, which is a 3 semester sequence, is enough for a high school diploma.

NY is going back to the algebra 1/geometry/algebra 2 sequence - right?

But for kids who took Math A, that's all they need.

Do I have that right?

Catherine Johnson said...

Barry - thanks.

I didn't realize NCLB had anything to say about high schools (although there was talk of extending the yearly exam requirement to the h.s. level).

Catherine Johnson said...

hmmm...I just re-read lgm's comment; I gather you're saying NY students need 3 years of math to qualify for a Regents diploma - ?

I've been told otherwise twice, here in my district.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's what I see for the Regents Diploma (I wasn't aware that there was a diploma beyond the Regents diploma):

Regents Diploma Requirements
Score 65 or above on 5 required Regents exams. Earn 22 units of credit.

Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation Requirements:
Score 65 or above on 8 required Regents exams. Earn 22 units of credit.


Catherine Johnson said...

OK, I think I've got it.

Students have to take 3 years of math for the Regents Diploma, which includes Math A & Math B. (For the uninitiated, Math A & Math B are 1 1/2-year long courses that integrate algebra 1, geometry, and algebra 2.)

However, the student only has to pass one of the Regents exams.

To earn the Regents Diploma With Advanced Designation, a student has to take 3 years of math (3 "units of credit," which I believe is the same thing as 3 years) & he or she must also pass 2 Regents Exams (or 3 Regents exams if he/she takes the new Integrated Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2/Trigonometry sequence).

For the Advanced Regents Diploma, if a student took Math A and Math B, he or she would have to pass the Regents exams for both courses.

Unfortunately, I can't tell what score you need to pass.

I assume that "pass" on this chart means a score of 65 or higher.


Tracy W said...

My suggested life rule - regard anyone who uses the words "only need" with respect to maths courses with the deepest, darkest suspicision. Only believe such an assertion when backed up by evidence so convincing you would stake your child's life on it. Keep doing maths.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Regents diploma scoring: the fine print is here -

Speaking of students without disabilities only:
For the local diploma, a 55 and up was considered passing through the end of last year, however there was a limit on the number of regents exams that could be that low and count toward the local diploma.

Those entering Grade 9 this year Fall 2008 need a 65 or greater on all req'd Regents exams for the Regents Diploma, and an average of 90 or higher for the Regents Advanced diploma. For the Regents Adv. diploma, they take either Math A and Math B Reg. exams for or Math A and IA2/Trig (depending on how fast their district transitioned).

For those entering Grade 9 Fall 2009 or later, a score of 85 or better on each exam with an average of 90 or higher is needed for the Regents Advanced diploma. They take the exams for each of the three courses: Math A or IA1, Geo and IA2/Trig. For the Regents diploma, the Req'ts are the same as for Fall 2008 Grade 9 cohort.

I have been told that students need a 95 on each Regents exam to be considered for the Advanced designation on the Regents Diploma. Sounds like a scare tactic to keep people out of the advanced courses.