Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Triumph of Delusion over Data in Seattle

David A. Orbits
Subject: A Triumph of Delusion over Data in Seattle

This HS math adoption is simply astonishing. These Algebra I / Geometry / Algebra II books by Key Curriculum Press do not provide sufficient student practice for students to generate long term memory. They don’t aid the parent who wants to help their child. They don’t aid the beginning teacher or the teacher whose math knowledge is weak. In some cases they don’t even teach the math correctly.

They burn too much class time with student discussion. Class time that would be better utilized with students working a variety of practice problems with one-on-one teacher feedback for the students who are getting stuck either because of holes in their math knowledge, gaps in their ability to pay attention or simple misunderstanding of the lesson. The saddest part of all is that the weakest of all math students, the student from a low income home, will suffer the most. The WASL scores over the last 5 – 6 years in Seattle and the state have shown little improvement, sitting at 50% pass rate (chart below) and the achievement gap between low-income 10th graders and non low-income 10th graders has stayed stable at 30 to 35 percentage points.

that the achievement rate is actually lower when you factor in the student dropouts that did not take the Math WASL. Ditto for the low income students which likely makes the gap even wider than we see below.

The four Seattle school board members that accepted the administration recommendation to continue with a discovery based math curriculum were more interested in getting new textbooks into the schools to replace the tattered textbooks (according to one of them) and going along with the administration recommendation than exercise their oversight responsibility. They should have asked the administration to justify how continuing the status quo with a discovery curriculum would result in any improvement in the data below?

The WASL math test certainly has faults but it is a test from which we have data produced by Terry B who was an ardent follower of discovery based curricula. That is, the test was designed to mate with Discovery curricula and the results we see below for Seattle are simply awful for students by the time they get to 10th grade.

The administration tried to make the point that the exact text is not important, quality teaching is important and further professional development will solve any problems. This is baloney. If professional development was the answer then why is the pass rate only at 50% after 10+ years and why is the gap sitting at 35 points. The text does matter. It helps the new teacher and those weak at teaching math. It helps the student as an extra resource beyond the teacher.
It helps the parent who wants to help their child. So to suggest that the text book doesn’t matter is just not credible. What really matters is who we hire as a superintendent and who we elect to the school board. It seems to me that the Seattle SD curriculum adoption committee was also negligent in not justifying how their selection of such a weak curriculum can expect to improve student performance. It is a triumph of the delusion over data. All in all it is a sad day for Seattle students, now and for the next 10 years. We should all be outraged at the career opportunities lost to the students who don’t ―get the math‖.

David's letter makes reference to WASL data not include here.

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