Friday, September 17, 2010

Paying the Price for Poor Performance
My Op-Ed the Times would not run.

It's not the students' fault but they're paying the price when it comes to math instruction. Poorly chosen texts and the continuation of a failed approach to math education places huge numbers of students into remedial math classes in college. An OSPI math test looms as a possible high school graduation requirement. Why should students pay the price for the failures of adult leadership?

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is correct that students should not be held accountable for their math deficits at this time. Most of the last 15 years OSPI has not encouraged nor have many school districts provided proper k-8 math instructional materials, or instructional practices to produce efficient and effective student learning.

Graduates who elect to go on to college and place into remedial math classes should have those classes paid for by OSPI or their k-12 districts. Students who attend college classes regularly and complete homework should be able to make up their deficiencies on the State’s tab. This could be costly at some locations, where 50 percent of recent graduates are placing into the equivalent of high school math year one or even lower. Such a placement means a lot of remedial math classes, which don’t count toward college graduation, must be taken and passed to prepare the student for that first college math class.

Over the last three years, Seattle’s Southeast Education Initiative poured added funds into Rainier Beach and Cleveland High Schools. Since 2004, the University of Washington has been guiding with National Science Foundation funding the professional development of math teachers at Garfield and Cleveland. Two years ago, Rainier Beach joined the UW’s professional development for math teachers and a collaborative planning period was added. OSPI annual test results show that these programs netted progressively lower passing rates for Black and Limited English students at these three schools. The students needed effective interventions but the money went elsewhere.

The Seattle Public Schools' Math Program Manager stated on several occasions that a successful program is more than the instructional materials or the pedagogy; it is about many other things. Unfortunately Seattle is not headed for a successful program. The District now annually spends around $10 million for 110 academic coaches for teachers with no discernible effects. The elementary school program, Everyday Math adopted three years ago, expanded WASL math achievement gaps for all non-white subgroups for the first two years. Recently OSPI’s test results revealed Everyday Math to be a substandard performer in Seattle when compared with Math Connects at Clover Park SD, where they adopted an OSPI-recommended text. Seattle uses no math texts recommended by OSPI.

A year ago, Seattle adopted OSPI non-recommended and State Board of Education rated "mathematically unsound" “Discovering Mathematics” for high school and OSPI pass rates plummeted from 24.2 percent to 12.4 percent for Seattle’s Black students and from 11.2 percent to 6.7 percent for Limited English students.

In the prior year (2009), Seattle Black students’ 10th grade pass rate was 85 percent of their middle school cohort rate, Limited English speakers passed at 94 percent of cohort rate. In 2010 the corresponding rates are 51 percent and 57 percent.

It is unlikely that much positive change will take place in Seattle without massive public pressure or at least increased financial accountability. If the SPS is forced to pick up the tab for its ill prepared graduates’ remediation, then perhaps improved materials, practices and the required interventions listed in Seattle’s promotion/ non-promotion policies might show up. Social promotion, “Differentiated Instruction”, and “Discovery Learning” are failed approaches to math competence and need to be ended, by financial force if necessary.


kprugman said...

Our union is running the school board out in the next election. All of the candidates we are supporting made pledges not to accept donations from businesses that had contracts with the school district.

Tonight we voted no confidence in the pro-reform superintendent and the quarterly assessments his administrators are using to evaluate their teachers. Its the details for reforming education that are lacking - what I feel is the over-reliance on test data is creating a cheating culture not only with students, but includes also teachers and administrators. The current policy appears to be if you don't get caught, then you're honest.

It is very unlikely that any school could get a 33 point increase in test scores, when an increase of 5 points per year would have been more than sufficient to show improvement.

The controversy should be whether change is progressive in the sense that one can even find statistically a trend in student performance.

It also appears schools that have endemic cheating can easily be identifie. They are statistical anomalies.

It would be easier to identify classrooms that cheat, than classrooms that perform well on tests. With the exception of very high performing tracks of students, where cheating on a standardized test would not be worth the effort.

kprugman said...

Our newspaper ran a story last night about how this district manipulated its test scores prior to the school board election. All the low-scoring kids were shuttled into 'learning centers' so they weren't included in the test score results. That's how all the schools showed 'substantial' improvement - so much for the incremental approach advocated by reform. The union voted no confidence in its quarterlies, the superintendent, and the school board.

At least here, the union has the 'huevos' to back up its employees. We're advocating at our site that all our members having trouble dialoguing with their administrators have a union rep present just to keep meetings more civil.

We're also supporting a smaller elementary school teacher's union that is on the verge of striking. The district hired an expensive, new law firm to represent them during contract negotiations.

Our classified employees have it even worse. They are paying super-premiums for their current health insurance - over $500 per month.