Posted by Charity on March 24th, 2008

Yesterday, the Burlington Free Press had a follow-up story about the NECAP results.

Here is the line that tells you everything you need to know about Vermont’s schools.

Just how much the NECAP math scores mean is under debate. Teachers and principals are asking: Was the test too difficult, or not?

Okay now, as an educator myself, if my pupils took a standardized test and came out below proficiency, I would say it was due to one of two possibilities.

Possibility one: I did not cover the material that was on the test. If this was the case, the blame lies squarely with me. The questions I would then ask are, Why did I not cover the material on the test and how can I make sure that I do in the future?

Possibility two: I covered the material, but the children did not master it before we moved on to another topic. If this was the case, the blame, again, lies squarely with me. The questions I would ask are, How did I not know that my students were not mastering this material and how can I make sure that my students are getting the material before I move on, in the future?

At no point in time would I even stop to ask if the test was too hard.

How can a test that was designed around the standards of what I am already supposed to be teaching be too hard?

The only possibility is that the students were not taught the material to mastery level.

That can be because the material was not presented or because the students did not have the time to master it, but the fact remains, they did not have mastery of the material in question and it is my job to get them there. Period.

To expect anything less of our schools is a disservice to the students.

The difficulty level of the test is irrelevant.

The only questions worth considering at this time are, why do the students not have mastery of this material and how can we engage them enough to get them there?

The article goes on to cite that Vermont is at or above national averages with performance.

Unfortunately, that is not enough. We have a national educational crisis.

Still, these comparisons are no consolation to those who say the national math performance is weak relative to competing nations. Earlier this month, a long-awaited National Math Panel report said American math curriculums have too much breadth and too little depth.

The report recommended that American schools streamline math teaching in kindergarten to eighth-grade to emphasize proficiency with whole numbers, fractions, and aspects of geometry and measurement that are preludes to algebra.

More students should take algebra in eighth grade, the report urged, and Americans should drop the “erroneous” idea that math success is a function more of aptitude than effort.

The test was not too hard; math education is too easy.

Math education has been watered-down, with the expectation that the smart kids will pick it up and the not-so-smart kids won’t be able to get it anyway.

The problem is with the way we are teaching math.

I can say that because the NEA does not have me in its back pocket. Can the same be said for our politicians, who need to call for reforms?

The problem has been identified. The solutions have been presented. Now all that remains is for the educrats and the educators to do the right thing.

6 Responses to “More on the NECAPs and Math Education”

  1. “The problem has been identified. The solutions have been presented. Now all that remains is for the educrats and the educators to do the right thing.”

    Don’t hold your breath.

    Just for laughs, the teachers should take the test and their results published along with their names.

    In 1997, Massachusetts tested prospective teachers for basic skills and 59% of them failed!
    I doubt VT teachers would do much better.

  2. The National Math Panel noted that many students “have difficulty grasping the syntax or structure of algebraic equations and do not understand the procedures for transforming equations or why transformations are done the way they are.” It is indeed true that for many students algebra is a foreign language. Many students simply do not understand the meaning of the symbols used in algebra. Some students succeed by memorizing rules or procedures for solving equations.

    All students, however, would benefit from instruction in algebra that made the concepts visual and hands-on. Research now shows that such instruction can be provided as early as the 4th and 5th grade, with more than 80% of the students tested experiencing success in solving equation such as 3x = x+12 and 4x 3=3x+9. Success with such algebraic equations in the early grades would also serve to provide a strong foundation for students to succeed in a regular algebra course years later.

    This success would also serve to enhance student interest and excitement about mathematics. This is most important since the number #1 area of concern among the high school teachers surveyed by the Panel was lack of student motivation.

  3. The MA teacher testing was a pretty sad affair indeed. I remember one prospective MA teacher complaining that one of the questions on the test, “Write an interogative sentence.”, was too difficult since a whole lot of general population probably couldn’t answer the question properly. That’s the point though…you’re a *teacher*…you’re supposed to know more than the students and a lot of the parents. Excellent, well-qualified, well-motivated, well-paid teachers are essential to learning in school.

    I actually took algebra without first taking pre-algebra. Our algebra teacher held up the pre-algebra book on the first day of class and asked us if we had done anything in it during the previous year (we hadn’t, but we should have), then she said “Oh well” and started teaching as if we had already experienced pre-algebra. Boy was that fun…

  4. MA teacher: “I encourage my students to question everything, so I don’t waste classroom time teaching that interrogative statement nonsense!” :)

  5. Hey, if that MA teacher had only written “What’s an interrogative statement?” he’d have been head and shoulders above the rest!

  6. Exactly…I hope Charity feels better soon…