Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thoughts on what needs to be done

Evergreen High School's math Department chair Bob Dean's current recommendations:

1) The state should not recommend any curricula... .

The premise behind recommending curricula was that students around the state are being taught different things..... This is only true for those who are using reform curricula... .At the HS level it is only true for those using Integrated programs.... and mostly in the radical Integrated programs like Core Plus, IMP and SIMMS.... The truth is that the traditional programs all rank very close to each other......If you examine the OSPI ratings it is obvious that there is little difference in the traditional programs.... It really doesn't matter which one you chose because they all come close to the Revised Standards... . It is the programs like Core Plus etc that have a major problem.... If you look at the ratings of the content sections of the standards you will see that the integrated programs fail miserably at preparing kids to pass any EOC. The only thing that keeps them in the ballpark is alignment to the process standards... . which are so vague anything could align to them.... It is a huge mistake for the state to recommend Core Plus or any other Integrated programs if they want the average to low end kids to pass an EOC. Solution.... Let the assessment decide the curriculum.. . We used to have totally fuzzy standards... that is why districts got away with choosing fuzzy math programs.... Now, despite many weaknesses, we have traditional standards... .. The Integrated programs simply won't work.

2) Clean up the standards... . Get rid of those that are not measurable or at least rewrite them so they are clear and specific. If I was in charge, I would hire Dave Obits to clean up the k-8 standards... . He has the best handle on which standards in k-8 are poorly written than anyone I know of. I would clean up high school standards myself....
Regardless of who does it.... this has to be done in order to design a new state assessment that has a chance of being successful.. .. If the standards are not cleaned up and assessments are made based on the ambiguous standards, we will be right back where we are with the WASL.... teachers will be teaching all over the map....students will not be prepared for a particular set of skills.....many students will not do well on the state assessment.. ...because it will be impossible for teachers to predict what kids might be tested on.

3) EOC's I would start with developing an EOC for Algebra I.... this would be the new WASL or WCAP.... My experience with teaching kids who struggle with passing the WASL is that they would instantly do better on an Algebra I test.... That is because most of the 9th math courses focus on Algebra (however Core Plus does not)...9th grade math does not focus on the kind of problems that are on the WASL... There is very little Algebra on the existing WASL... After I gave the Alg 1 EOC, I would set a cut score that would allow 80% of the students to pass.... then I would bump up the cut score each year until I arrived at an acceptable skill level.

4) Professional Development changes You can't have proper professional development until you properly identify what is wrong with our system.... We are spending huge amounts of money on experimental pedagogies that have no widespread record of success anywhere. This also includes state programs like PASS Math, Segmented Math, and the Collection of Evidence program. None of these programs have been successful because they don't recognize the real problem..... .The real problem is that a large number kids are failing math every year that they are in school....and nothing is being done about the time they reach high school they are DOA..... Huge amounts of money is being spent on "Silver Bullet" programs that are supposed to make every student successful.. ..if you just teach the right way. Therefore you fund the "Math cops"....more commonly called "math coaches." These people are in place to force teachers to use the latest fad in teaching...often called "Best Practices." ......What do the facts show.... 95% of students who come to high school close to grade level pass the WASL and go on to graduate from high school. The majority (not all) of the students who are failing the WASL are kids that are coming in with basic skill levels at 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade.... There is no way to get these kids to pass any high school level math test no matter what kind of magic teaching methods you are peddling.... ..I challenge anyone to provide me with data and statistics that shows a different result for these kids.... In many places the number of kids that fall into this category is staggering.. ...Not only will school districts not admit this fact..... they don't even know it because very few districts test kids to find out this information. ...Thus they prescribe professional development that has nothing to do with the problem. How would I solve this problem.... I would develop EOC's at every grade level.... these could be taken online and would be used for diagnositc and informative purposes. Kids that were identified as being behind grade level would receive intervention immediately and from then on..... What is happening now is that a student who did not pass math in the 2nd and 3rd grade enters the 4th grade two years behind. Do they get help on what they don't know from previous grades....the answer is NO. They have to try to learn 4th grade math based on 4th grade standards even though they have little chance of being successful.. ..from there on it snowballs until they finally give up and/or arrive DOA at high school.... The professional development we need would be to help teachers identify the critical skills kids need at each grade level and make sure they could teach them to the kids who are behind.... This PD would be based on content knowledge not "silver bullet" pedagogy tricks that turn our kids into guinea pigs.... Future PD would be based on proven results not the latest fad.

5) Dual Tracks Not all kids have the same needs.... Kids heading for Engineering and careers that require mathematics as a foundation should not be forced into the same classes with kids who are headed for the work world or careers that don't need advanced mathematics (most careers). The idea that all kids need to be prepared for higher level abstract mathematics is lunacy.... No one else in the world is trying to do this...... for one doesn't and hasn't worked and it never will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is typical of a math department groupthink - I would say most of this is done already but its not been formalized. Math departments continue failing the majority of their students.

Before you spend anything on retooling, districts need a curriculum and it has to be better than good. Currently, what's available is unacceptable and math teachers know that I'm right.