Thursday, May 28, 2009

Orbits speaks on Discovery learning and research

The attached doc file contains Math WASL data charts for the Bellevue School District.

The Bellevue School District 10-year achievement gap averages for Black and Hispanic students are very large (over 40 points). As in Lake WA, the number of Black and Hispanic students are relatively small compared to white students; one would think it shouldn’t be too difficult to teach enough math to a relatively small group so they can pass the WASL. Especially considering the claim by proponents that a Discovery curriculum makes math more accessible to all students. I think in reality the data suggests that middle and upper middle class students are receiving help with math learning outside of school to compensate for the shortcomings of teaching math using the Discovery method. This outside help is unavailable to Low-Income students. More about this at the end.

This has been going on for the last 10+ years in Bellevue (and in other districts). It seems clear that a new Math Curriculum is needed so all students can efficiently and effectively learn math in school.

By denying Low-Income students a successful math education, the current program almost seems designed to deselect them from higher paying STEM careers. The evil of “unintended consequences”, spawned from poor quality Education Research, strikes another school district.

I have added some comments on Education Research quality at the end.

A summary of the Bellevue Math WASL stats in the charts is as follows:

For 4th Grade Bellevue Students--

• White-Black achievement gap average = 44 points since 1998

• White-Hispanic achievement gap average = 42 points since 1998

• 8 of 10 Black & 7 of 10 Hispanic 4th graders failed Math WASL in 2007

For 7th Grade Bellevue Students—

• White-Black achievement gap average = 41 points since 1997

• White-Hispanic achievement gap average = 40 points since 1997

• 2 of 3 Black and Hispanic 7th graders failed Math WASL in 2007

For 10th Grade Bellevue Students—

• White-Black achievement gap average = 45 points since 1998

• White-Hispanic achievement gap average = 45 points since 1998

• 3 of 4 Black & 2 of 3 Hispanic 10th graders failed Math WASL in 2007

• Dropouts not reflected in 10th grade data

For Low-Income Bellevue Students as a group--

• 4th grade achievement gap average = 34 points since 2001

• 10th grade achievement gap average = 32 points since 2003

• 2 of 3 Low-Income 4th graders failed Math WASL in 2007

• 6 of 10 Low-Income 10th graders failed Math WASL in 2007

• Dropouts not reflected in 10th grade data

Data Source: WA OSPI Report Card

On Research Produced by the University Education Community:

The Report of the National Math Advisory Panel in 2008 clearly stated that most of the Education Community does not know how to conduct scientific research. A quote from their recommendations reads,

“the Subcommittee on Standards of Evidence recommends that the rigor and amount of course work in statistics and experimental design be increased in graduate training in education. Such knowledge is essential to produce and to evaluate scientific research in crucial areas of national need, including mathematics education.“

The NMAP panel made this recommendation because they found:

“The Panel’s systematic reviews have yielded hundreds of studies on important topics, but only a small proportion of those studies have met methodological standards. Most studies have failed to meet standards of quality because they do not permit strong inferences about causation or causal mechanisms (Mosteller & Boruch, 2002; Platt, 1964). Many studies rely on self-report, introspection about what has been learned or about learning processes, and open-ended interviewing techniques, despite well-known limitations of such methods (e.g., Brainerd, 1973; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Woodworth, 1948).” Note that some of the Panel’s reference sources date back to 1948 and 1973.

The take away is to be very skeptical when you hear the phrase, “research shows”. Always ask the speaker to, “Please cite your specific reference to the research literature so I can read it myself.” I expect most speakers will not have such references to hand, and further, it should cut down on the flippant use of this phrase in the future. Then read the supplied research looking for the use of problematic methods noted above in the NMAP report.

For some recent research published in the Psychology Literature (vs. the Education Literature) on a comparison of the relative effectiveness of discovery learning and direct instruction see, “The equivalence of learning paths in early science instruction: effects of direct instruction and discovery learning”, David Klahrl and Milena Nigam, 2004 American Psychological Society, Volume 15—Number 10, pgs 661-667.

The authors found Direct Instruction was more effective than Discovery learning. They state, “That is, the focused, explicit, and didactic training in the direct-instruction condition produced a high proportion of CVS masters who were as proficient as the few discovery-learning masters (and experts) when subsequently asked to demonstrate richer, more authentic, scientific judgments.”


-- Dave


Anonymous said...

After 15 years of reform mongering, Bellevue, once a model of diversity and public school excellence, is now a fraction of its former self.

I wonder if this district is still teaching Core plus to other Washington State School Districts. This is the district that invented Hispanic Magnet Schools too. But its gone now, and so are the Hispanics.

If ethics were wanting. Honesty would be a good starting point.

dan dempsey said...

great point:
I wonder if this district is still teaching Core plus to other Washington State School Districts.

I know that Waterville NE of Wenatchee is using Core-Plus because of Bellevue.

Scores for W'ville
The last three years are Core-Plus .. keep in mind this is 10th grade WASL math ... if it was true high school level math this would be a real bloodletting.

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