Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Testing and Opt-Out Movement

This blog is behind on important national news about several topics in public education today.  (But we've had a lot going on in our district.) To correct that, here's some reading I put aside.

Please understand - opting out of testing is your right (and many Supreme Court cases validate that).  Certainly there could be consequences as the district may use testing to gatekeep for some programs. 

But consider that our district does not listen to parents in any real way.  (In fact, Director Peaslee has been complaining about the "angry parents" or "angry public" without considering why parents might be upset.)

Several things happen when you opt your child out of testing. You certainly will get the attention of the district and your school's principal.  They are very worried you will tell other parents and then more people opt their children out.  It is a direct signal of parent unhappiness.

You also help starve the data beast.  Don't like the direction the district is going in the classroom with the emphasis on testing?  If they don't have test scores, they don't have data and that is power. 

To note, Arne Duncan talks as though he, too, thinks there is too much testing but has yet to do anything about it.  Hey, Big Talker.

Big overview from The Washington Post:

Four states have repealed or delayed graduation testing requirements in the past two years. Four others, including Texas — where the idea of using tests to hold schools accountable for educating children first began — have cut the number of required exams or reduced their consequences. Boycotts, such as when 60,000 students refused to take exams this year in New York, are on the upswing.

Former President Bill Clinton said two weeks ago that students don't need to be tested annually, as required by federal law. "I think doing one (test) in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right," he said.

The result is that, on average, students in large urban school districts take 113 standardized tests between pre-K and 12th grade, according to data being collected by the Council of Great City Schools. (Editor's note: SPS belongs to the Council of Great City Schools.)

Colorado has been hugely in the news over opting out.  A group has been started there called United Opt-Out and they have good information state-by-state.  They have created quite the heavy-duty letter for parents to submit to schools about opting out.

The groundswell in Colorado, while small in for overall testing numbers, has been loud and covered nationally.  From Chalkbeat Colorado:

So far, the debate over testing in Colorado has seemed to be concentrated in suburbs like Douglas County. But while still relatively small — the total opt-outs from the 2013 round of tests amount to about 1 percent of students — the emergence of spats in Denver may indicate that momentum among parents to opt out is growing.

More on Colorado's pushback from Chalkbeat Colorado:

15 Coloradans will gather at the state Capitol to kick off a six-month marathon of meetings intended to dissect and evaluate Colorado’s testing regimen.

Created by the 2014 General Assembly, the panel is tasked with understanding how Colorado’s public schools are assessing their students, how exam results impact certain education reform policies, and whether relief from standardized tests are needed for students and teachers.

A great piece is from the Answer Sheet at the Washington Post by the head of Fair Test, Monty Neill, called The Rise of the Anti-Standardized Testing Movement.

To understand how parents, students, educators, community leaders and other allies built the movement, my colleague Lisa Guisbond and I interviewed more than 30 activists, primarily parents, from across the nation. We tracked news stories, read research reports and blogs, and talked with policymakers. FairTest has released a detailed report on our findings.

From the Badass Teachers Association (BATS), a call to arms:

It all comes down to standardized tests. Bureaucrats don’t know how to measure educational achievements without them. After all, they’re not, themselves, educators. That’s why every major educational “reform” of recent years requires more-and-more of these fill-in-the-bubble falsely objective, poorly written and cheaply graded tests.
However, educators know the emperor has no clothes. We know the best predictor of high test scores is a student’s parental income. Rich kids score well, poor kids score badly. Standardized tests don’t measure knowledge. They measure economics.

Alice O’Brien, head of the NEA Office of the General Counsel:
 “NEA supports parents who chose to exercise their legal right to opt their children out of standardized tests. When educators determine that a standardized test serves no legitimate educational purpose, and stand in solidarity with their local and state association to call for an end to the administration of that test in their schools, NEA will support those educators just as it did in the case of the teachers who protested the administration of the MAP test at Garfield High School.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten:
“We supported teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle when they refused to give redundant tests. We supported early childhood teachers in New York when they shined the light on how abusive it is to give bubble tests to 5-year-olds. On the testing madness that’s sapping the joy from our classrooms, teachers are the canaries in the coal mines, and we support their advocacy. Ultimately, though, it’s up to parents to make the decision whether to opt out.”
Again, major fighting words from one mom at The Answer Sheet - This. Means. War. by Sarah Blaine (also a blogger).  Ms. Blaine, a mother, former teacher and lawyer, was addressing what her state, New Jersey, was saying about how schools should handle parents who try to opt their students out of testing. 

There is something wrong when our 9-year-old fourth graders are expected to sit for more testing than our state’s aspiring attorneys must take to become licensed to practice law.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D to realize that it is fundamentally wrong to base education policy on essays our fourth graders are required to type — when they’ve never taken typing classes. Last spring when I began exploring these tests, I watched my daughter struggle for over seven minutes to input the answer to a math question she’d solved in 30 seconds.  I’m a mom and a former teacher, and I see no value whatsoever in tests that measure my 4th grader’s computer savvy rather than her academic skills.

From the Center for American Progress (CAP), a report on Testing Overload in America's Schools:

High-quality assessments generate rich data and can provide valuable information about student progress to teachers and parents, support accountability, promote high expectations, and encourage equity for students of color and low-income students. 

But it is important to acknowledge that for some children, testing exacts an emotional toll in the form of anxiety and stress. 

Therefore, the number of tests and/or the amount of time devoted to tests should be limited to the minimum amount needed to acquire critical information to improve student learning.

Moreover, it must be remembered that tests simply collect information and that they are only as valuable as the quality of the information collected and the way that information is utilized. Tests should not take center stage in the classroom, particularly at the expense of meaningful learning time. Schools should design assessment schedules, as well as overall schooling, in ways that maximize the learning experience and foster the positive development of students.

Nicely summed up. From their report findings:
  • Districts require more tests than states: Students across all grade spans take more district tests than state assessments. Students in K-2 are tested three times as much on district exams as state exams, and high school students are tested twice as much on district exams.
  • Students are tested up to twice per month, leading to a rise of test-prep culture: Students are tested as frequently as twice per month and an average of once per month. CAP’s analysis found that students take as many as 20 standardized assessments per year and an average of 10 tests in grades 3-8. While CAP found that students spend only an average of 1.6 percent of instructional time actually taking tests, a culture has arisen in some states and districts that places a premium on testing over learning.
  • There is a lack of transparency around testing: While parents may know when their children are being tested, the purposes of the tests students are taking, whether the state or district is requiring the test, and how much time tests take may not always be clear from the information that districts provide.
Lastly, from our neighbors to the south, an op-ed from The Oregonian, Why My Kids will not take the Smarter Balanced Test:

Some assessments are designed to inform teachers and students of progress. Other assessments are designed to see how schools prepare children to meet overall goals. 

The SBAC does neither; instead, this is a 30-hour "high stakes" assessment where students, teachers and schools face tough consequences if large numbers of students fail — while at the same time being designed to fail large numbers of children.

It is estimated that almost 70 percent of students will fail the assessment — yet anyone who talks with young people knows that 70 percent of kids are not failures.

Of course, there are students who need more support in their learning. Teachers and schools already know who these children are. Instead of pumping more time and money into assessing these students — and states are spending billions to prepare for the SBAC — time and resources should be used to teach these students.  

A test is not considered valid unless it captures more than 90 percent of participants; if just 10 percent of parents opt their children out of SBAC, the data collected cannot be considered valid. 


Anonymous said...


The Bartleby Project:

Just say I prefer not to.

open ears

Melissa Westbrook said...

Open Ears, I love it and I may put this up separately.

If we were with our kids in class, we would not hesitate to do this. Why is it so hard to direct them to do so?

Obviously, it's because we don't want them to have to "stand up" to their teacher but rather, be Bartleby and just say no (the original "just say no" guy).

Anonymous said...

[reposting from the Friday Open thread]

More on Common Core and how they are setting cut scores for the SBAC:


Tables show estimated performance levels (1-4) based on 2014 SBAC field tests.


Anonymous said...

The Bartleby Project is already outdated...students won't be able to write defiantly on their test papers, as the tests will be computerized.

In defense of standardized testing, in the days of the MSP I requested to view my children's tests. The questions were generally straightforward and matched well with the state standards. I really didn't object to my children taking the MSP.

The released sample questions form the SBAC, however, have me concerned. The typing and input demands of an online test seem too much for some of the younger children. Even if a student knows the concepts, some math questions involve so many steps that they increase the chance for errors. Or the multi-answer format will throw them. A student may be able to do the math required for a problem, but may not understand the problem as it is posed.

I'd expect some low scores the first year of the test. The increased demands of the test format will be a big shift for students.


Maje said...

Does opting out have any negative impact on the teacher? One of my kids' teachers is very anti-homework and so I was surprised when she hedged after I asked her about opting out. She didn't discourage me, but I was left with the impression that she didn't want us to opt out. It made me wonder if having my kid opt out would negatively impact her.

Lynn said...

At this point, why would a principal or teacher care? Our schools have been officially labelled as failing already.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Parent, well, certainly you cannot do the Bartleby project the same way if the testing is a computer. But there could be other ways to have quiet rejection of the testing.

I don't think the scores will just be low the first year. I think you'll see this for quite awhile. The test is designed for some to fail, that's just how it works.

There is the short-term, long-term view.

Short-term - will teachers and principals and schools be hurt? Well, as Lynn says, they are nearly all technically failing according to the feds. In Seattle test scores are part of the CBA but frankly, I don't know how much. Principals can get bonuses based on outcomes including test scores.

Long-term - getting to a BETTER place for assessments for student AND teachers. Because even if you are a teacher and think the SB is the bee's knees, you probably don't like the amount of time it takes to prep (and yes, it's prep) for it.

Teaching and learning is not, and should not, be about testing.

Lynn said...

I'm opting my kids out this year because:

1. They shouldn't have to waste 8 1/2 hours on a test that won't provide any benefit to them. There's not a chance anyone will review their scores and offer them extra support or extra challenge.

2. I want to send a message that I send my kids to school to be educated - not to be prepared to take standardized tests.

3. I'm pissed off by the dishonest way our school is describing it as a required test. They're required to administer it - kids aren't required to take it.

4. If my kids are going to miss even more hours of classroom instruction - I can think of tons of more useful things for them to do with that time.

Anonymous said...

I opted a kid out last year (and will again this year). The school did not care at all and there have been no negative consequences that I'm aware of. We used the 4 testing days to go hiking, write a research paper and work on math. Just as Lynn said, there are far more useful ways to spend that time!

Opting out can hurt the school and teacher, especially if the kid was likely to pass the tests--the score is publicly reported as a 0, lowering the school's pass rate. I struggle with this aspect, as higher pass rates can mean less test prep and more academic freedom... It's not clear to me what would happen to a school where a large number of kids opt out...

--avoiding uncertainly

Anonymous said...

avoiding uncertainly, no individual student's score is publicly reported. If you meant to say that the student's 0 score counts in the school's overall percentages, you would be correct. Opt outs count as a 0.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Is there some clear line between test prep and education, as you suggest? If a teacher delivers a solid curriculum that incorporates the standards, isn't that preparing students for the assessments while providing them an education? Is it really an either/or?

Suppose an elementary class learns and performs a Shakespeare play. Suppose they discuss themes and characters. They are covering multiple standards, getting exposed to complex language, and hopefully having fun. This is time well spent that will translate to skills in reading and interpreting passages as assessed on standardized tests. Would you call it test prep?


Anonymous said...

Melissa, neither the Smarter Balanced assessments nor THE MSP, etc. are "designed for some to fail." That is an inaccurate description of criterion-referenced assessments, which the aforementioned assessments are. Norm-referenced tests may be designed that way, but criterion-referenced assessments are not. There are indeed a range of difficulty of questions on each test, but none of those questions nor the assessments themselves are designed to have any population or sub-population of students "fail."

As for test prep, study after study (as well as communication after communication from OSPI) demonstrates that explicit test prep is not useful in improving scores on state standardized, criterion-referenced assessments. The best test prep teachers can do is to teach the standards well. Of course, students should be exposed to the types of questions they'll see on the assessmentS, but this can be done over the course of a year and embedded within instruction. If teachers are setting aside Smarter Balanced "test prep," they are indeed wasting their own and their students' time. And if they are doing so or are continuing to do so, it is not because of Smarter Balanced as an organization or OSPI. The fault lies squarely with the teachers, principals, and/or SPS.

--- swk

Benjamin Leis said...

Technically the tests are designed on a sort of bell curve which was deliberately set based on the data from the field tests. In this case the cutoffs for each level are fairly arbitrary. By moving the goal posts you can raise or lower the number of kids who "fail". Since this was not preset based on a certain amount of knowledge demonstrated and honestly since the Common Core can always move those benchmarks as well the entire process is highly manipulatible.

Anonymous said...

Oh swk. Confusing us with facts again.

- not stressed

Anonymous said...

Ditto what @swk said.

For grades 3 and up, Spring 2014 field tests are projecting more than 50% of students are expected to get a score of 2 or lower in math and ELA. These are the cut scores they [SBAC] have agreed upon. This does not mean tests are explicitly designed for students to fail, it means more than half of students are expected to perform below standard. Yeah, it sounds a little like doublespeak, but there is a distinction, as @swk explains.


(nitpicker) parent

Anonymous said...

Benjamin, I would disagree with your underlying premise that the Achievement Levels (i.e., cut scores) were preset arbitrarily and that the levels were "not preset based on a certain amount of knowledge demonstrated." The Achievement Level Descriptors were determined prior to the standard setting process and the Achievement Levels were set to correspond with those ALDs.

Also, the "bell curve" to which you refer is not set to any population or sub-population of students (like the SAT) but rather to the number of items within a test. In other words, there will be more questions anchored around the "proficient" achievement level and fewer questions anchored to the lowest and highest achievement levels.

While there may be 4 different levels within each grade, the assessment is (again) not designed for any population or sub-population to "fail." In other words, any hard-working, well-taught student should be able to demonstrate proficiency on the test (aka "pass").

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

Wondering, are you really wondering or what? Of course, there is overlap. I'll put this the simplest way possible.

When you have CC standards and those are bookended by assessments, you will narrow the curriculum especially with high-stakes testing (for both students and teachers). So yes, there is likely more on test prep to the detriment of other subjects.

SWK, we'll have to disagree. I think the way these tests are being set up, they expect many students to fail. Call it what you will.

Anonymous said...

The issue for some is the test itself, but for more parents, I bet, it's the time spent in the classroom on test prep. I really hate the amount of test prep that takes place, but opting out of the test won't spare my kids that wasted classroom time.

The place I've thrown up my hands is that with the change in test question types and format (computerized), I think most SPS classrooms will be spending more test prep time than ever, and I can't think of any way to avoid it.

I've read that the use of the computer at the younger grades is going to be really hard for lots of kids who don't yet type on a keyboard but have to do essay writing. I watched my kid try to do math on an online program and the way you input things like showing a multiplication or percent symbol is different than with pencil and paper.

So I don't blame teachers for trying to get students used to all this newness before the spring testing, because what teacher wants to see their students fall apart when confronted with a format they've never seen? But the flip side is a giant waste of class time and a giant loss of computers for other more important uses.

It is really disheartening and again, I see no way around my own kids being stuck with the downsides of classroom test prep.


Anonymous said...

A related but separate thought...I am neutral on the test itself. I don't put a lot of stock in them as one of my kids is better at tests than classroom work and predictably scores higher than I think is deserved, and one of my kids is very bright but struggles with test anxiety and invariably underperforms in pressure situations. Neither captures the reality of my children's strengths or weaknesses - a viewpoint in which I am right in synch with my kids' great teachers.


Anonymous said...

Melissa, we can agree on the expectation of low scores this year if not for a few years. But if you think "they" (whoever that might be) are expecting students to do poorly due to some dastardly conspiracy to fail a lot of students, you are just wrong about that and we're going to have to agree to disagree (again). I'm not getting down with the conspiracy theorist --- there's just no cheese down that hole.

There is an expectation among policymakers, Smarter Balanced leadership, state-level assessment staff, et al of low scores because the test is anchored to college readiness and the entire SB set of assessments is vertically articulated to the 11th grade expectation of college readiness. Our public education system has NEVER been anchored to college readiness for ALL students. Of course, we should expect low scores, if for no other reason that this. Until the entire system aligns to the policy goal of all students college ready, we're going to see low scores.

--- swk

Linh-Co said...

I'm not sure about the anchoring to "college readiness". I'm majorly concerned about accepting the EOC passing scores as not needing remedial classes. Although the COMPASS tests have issues, I think they are reasonable for math placement. I know plenty of kids who passed the Washington State EOC1 algebra test who couldn't do algebra.

Here's an article about college remediation:


December 3, 2014
One State’s Shakeup in Remedial Education Brings a Slew of Headaches

By Katherine Mangan

Enrollments in remedial courses dropped by half at many of Florida’s community and state colleges this fall, but not everyone is cheering. Just as many poorly prepared students are showing up, but thanks to a new state law, many are jumping straight into college-credit classes.
The optional-remediation law is forcing professors in college-level composition classes to spend time on basic sentence structure, while mathematics teachers who were ready to plunge into algebra are going over fractions. It’s also raising questions about how the dwindling number of students who do sign up for remedial classes here will perform when those catch-up lessons in math, reading, and writing are compressed, embedded into credit courses, or offered alongside them.
The shakeup in remedial education, also known as developmental education, is badly needed, most educators in Florida concur. But that’s about all they agree on as they begin to assess the impact in its first year.
Alarmed by the high dropout and failure rates for college students who start out in remedial classes, Florida lawmakers voted last year to make such courses, and even the related placement tests, optional for anyone who entered a Florida public school as a ninth-grader in 2003 or later and earned a diploma. Students who are actively serving in the military can also opt out.
The legislation affects the 28 open-access colleges known as the Florida College System.
"The law is based on the assumption that students know better about what they need," said Shouping Hu, a professor of higher education and director of the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University. Some faculty members and administrators aren’t so sure, said Mr. Hu, who leads a research team that received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the Florida law’s impact.
Enrollment in remedial classes has dropped by 50 percent or more in some colleges this fall, he said. Many of those students are heading instead to so-called gateway courses, causing headaches for some professors.
"Faculty members in these courses mentioned that they had to do substantial restructuring and alter their instruction strategies because they needed to consider a bigger variation in terms of preparation," Mr. Hu said.
"They understand that developmental education, as it was offered, wasn’t working and that they needed to do something. But the changes happened quickly and they had little time to prepare." He said he had no idea yet how many underprepared students might have dropped out this fall after finding themselves in over their heads.

Anonymous said...

Linh-Co, that article is depressing! So because the schools aren't doing a good job preparing kids for college level classes, the basic college level classes have to get "dumbed down" even further--all so that kids don't have to feel bad about taking the remedial classes they clearly need? What a sad state of things.

Half Full

Melissa Westbrook said...

You know, I don't like name calling. Naturally there are several kinds. We don't allow swearing, debasing words and yet you certainly can challenge someone on their position.

But, after more than a decade in this work, it never fails that if someone doesn't like the dot connection (or even believes you CAN connect the dots), then guess what? You're a conspiracy theorist.

I've found that it a good way to marginalize a person or discussion (or even a blog) as "those people? they're conspiracy theorists."

So that anything I or this blog may say can be instantly negated. It has worked very well for the powers that be in this city, some who actually work in education and others who are just poseurs and dabblers.

But guess what? Many times, usually a long time after the fact, the dots DO connect.

That keeps me going when others want to just pooh-pooh. Because that pooh-poohing? You just never know WHY someone is doing it.

Is it because they think "No, Gates is a great guy and just wants to help."

Is it because they have a job that would be threatened if much of what is being done (and the reasons for that) were exposed?

Is it just to be contrary?

Don't know, don't care.

But understand, you never throw me off with that kind of name-calling.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, the Seattle Opt-Out Group will meet again in January, please join us.

January 13

6 til 8

Beacon Hill Library
2821 Beacon Ave. South

Bring your answers, your questions, your concerns.
Educator Wayne Au will join us and share his wealth of knowledge on the subject of high stakes testing.

All are welcome.


Linh-Co said...

The article is depressing. From my initial viewpoint, the K-16 alignment doesn't seem to raise the bar for K-12. It only lowers the college level standards.

Anonymous said...

Book recommendation - Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz.
Goes over what educational testing really tells us. Very accessible language/explanations about educational testing, the international tests, etc.



Watching said...

Say what you like, swk, but more students will fail, There will be some that will promote charter schools because public schools are failing.

Ravitch has interesting things to say regarding NAEP and Common Core.

Common Core should have been a pilot- not a national roll-out. Our kids are being used as guinea pigs--with real life consequences.

Anonymous said...

LinCo, wow big duhhh! When we now expect everyone to go to college, the corollary is that now college will have to do more. This is surprising exactly how? Inclusivity, providing college opportunities to populations who have never had it can only be seen as a positive development. Yes, college proffs will have to get off their duffs to meet students with a wider range of achievement profiles. Cry me a river! The rest of the world does this all the time. As with all forms of inclusion, students who have mastered materials in secondary school are not somehow damaged by this.

Reader 48

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I apologize for my intellectual laziness in referring to you as a conspiracy theorist. That was wrong.

I stayed up half the night thinking about that and it led me to do a good bit of reading last night and this morning. I've come around to the idea that you are not, in fact, a conspiracy theorist but may be a critical education theorist.

I spent most of my night reading about critical education theory, critical social theory, and critical race theory. That led me to Noah Chomsky and post-modernist neo-Marxism, which led me to the Socialist Worker, Haymarket Books, and the International Socialist Organization. This in turn ultimately led me to our own little corner of the world. In that corner, I found Social Equality Educators, the Puget Sound Socialists, the Socialist Alternative Party, Kshama Sawant, Jesse Hagopian, and Wayne Au.

I've only now begun this reading and exploration. I intend to further educate myself on these theories and these people.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Geez, Reader 48. Why shouldn't it be elementary, middle and high schools that have to do more instead? And colleges already do offer the remedial classes, so it's not like people don't have those options. When intro level classes are watered down and made easier to accommodate students who really aren't prepared for them, students who are ready are in fact hurt. A single class may cost several thousand dollars, so being forced to take one that is easier than it should be and isn't able to cover all the material that should can have a big impact on how much a student is able to learn during their time at the school.

College courses should cover set material--and if a student isn't ready for one course, they should find a more basic one rather than expecting everyone else to slow down for them. I think these professors who are changing their courses to accommodate students who don't have the prerequisite skills are doing a huge disservice to many. A college degree should mean you have a certain level of knowledge, not just a certain numbers of years.

Half Full

Anonymous said...

My feeling on remedial classes in college is that if we do a better job in lower grades, they would be less necessary.

The perfect example is math. The discovery approach relied strongly on word problems to teach math. Students spent too much time on exploration of concepts and not enough time on mastery. The boom in outside tutoring firms, such as Sylvan Learning, filled the gap for affluent students but others were left behind. They landed in remedial courses in college if they made it that far.

Our new board in SPS is comprised of members with math backgrounds. They introduced a new math curriculum for elementary students and I hope it will be extended for middle and high school students. Then we might see less need for remedial classes in college.

S parent

Anonymous said...

S parent, the existence of large percentages of students needing remedial math in college existed long before the advent of discovery math. Approximately 50% (+/-) of students entering community colleges needing remedial math has not changed in decades and didn't in fact increase with discovery math.

The argument could be made that more students are progressing to college than ever before, including many populations of students who didn't pursue college in previous generations AND who grew up on discovery math, combined with the fact that the need for remedial math didn't increase is testament to the fact that there is no correlation (and certainly causation) between instruction in discovery math and the need for remedial math in college.

Research indicates that the need for remedial math in college is in fact due to a lack of Algebra II or higher coursework in high school and a lack of higher skill math in the senior year.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Yes, swk, but the lack of higher skill in high school means fewer students are getting what they need in math up to that level. My point is that if they are better prepared, then more students will be able to succeed in college and be less likely to need remedial math.

Cliff Mass, the University of Washington science professor, charted how many more students were landing into remedial math classes since the dawn of discovery math. In 2008, 60 math and science professors issued a statement of concern about the declining level of math competency, stating that students were arriving with poor mastery of essential skills. If these UW freshman are some of our best students, then we are surely failing them and others.

You can blow it off by saying more students are entering college and we have always had remedial classes. My suggestion is to give them what they need to do better and land some of these good jobs that require solid math skills.

S parent

Linh-Co said...

"Research indicates that the need for remedial math in college is in fact due to a lack of Algebra II or higher coursework in high school and a lack of higher skill math in the senior year."

I'll have to disagree with this statement. Kids aren't taking remedial math because they didn't take Algebra II in high school. Students are required to take 3 years of high school math for graduation. Most do take Algebra II in high school with passing grades, but still end up in lower placement on the COMPASS test. The percentage of remediation is much higher than reported. For example UW farms their remediation classes out to community colleges so it doesn't show up in the stats. I know a Seattle Community College math professor who teaches remedial math classes on UW campus for SCC.

The kids are failing Algebra II not because they don't understand Algebra II. They are failing due to weak arithmetic preparation in the early grades. This was reported in the Final Report of the National Math Advisory Panel.

Anonymous said...

S parent, I am intimately aware of the 2008 letter put forward by Dr. Mass and signed by a number of UW professors, associate professors, and assistant professors. At that time, Dr. Mass did not present any empirical evidence of an increase in remedial math education at UW among first year students admitted to UW or a decrease in math skills of those same students. All he submitted was a letter of anecdotal inferences. Conversely, the UW Admissions Office denied that there was ANY increase in the number or percentages of students needing remedial math admitted that year or any other preceding year when asked to comment on Dr. Mass' claim. In other words, the office that is statutorily responsible for collecting and reporting remediation rates of first-year students at UW refuted the inferences made by Dr. Mass. Furthermore, I can tell you without reservation that UW leadership and many legislative higher education policymakers were livid at the suggestion in the letter that UW was lowering its admissions standards in math and/or the content of first-year math courses to accommodate unskilled students.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Linh-Co, you can disagree all you like. The strongest indicator of college-level math success is for students to pass Algebra II or higher while in high school AND to be engaged in higher level math skills in the senior year. Those senior year math skills can be attained by taking math at or above Algebra II or by taking Chemistry or Physics or a rigorous Applied Math course. Students who take such a course of study have a significantly higher chance of attaining college-level math skills than students who never take Algebra II and/or don't stay engaged in math in their senior year.

And while the State Board of Education has fairly recently required 3 years of math to graduate from high school and suggested that Algebra II be required as one of those credits, the loophole they provided to avoid Algebra II is large enough to drive a truck through. But, even if students take Algebra II, they still have to keep their math skills up if they take Algebra II prior to their senior year.

But with all that said, Linh-Co, you can provide no empirical evidence that discovery math (or any other math program) has had ANY positive or negative effect on students' need for remedial math upon entering college. If you are in possession of such empirical evidence, I would be very much interested in reading it.

--- swk

Greenwoody said...

There's too much theorizing going on here. We have plenty of evidence to show what has happened and what will happen. In New York State, the PARCC cut scores were set similarly. Huge numbers of students who were doing well in school suddenly showed up as not meeting standards. That wasn't because they actually "weren't as smart as they thought they were," in Arne Duncan's immortal words. It's because the scores were set in a way to make these students appear to be dumber than they actually are. This is why New York is now a hotbed of opposition to Common Core and the high stakes tests.

We also know that, while it is definitely possible and perhaps preferable to teach normally and have that produce good test scores, the high stakes nature of the tests - principals and teachers have their jobs on the line with these scores - means that schools will teach to the test to try and ensure that scores rise. That happens any time you put financial incentives toward or make people's jobs dependent on a measurable goal - they will focus on that goal to the exclusion of all else.

So while people here can spin nice theories about how high stakes testing could work, we have plenty of evidence showing how it actually operates in practice - and the results are terrible.

Anonymous said...

swk, Cliff Mass showed exactly when they lowered standards in entrance math test scores, which is when trendlines turned up. I am not surprised the UW admissions office was upset about his assertions, since they go directly against the perceived quality of their freshmen classes.

A good book on this subject is Betrayed, How the Education Establishment has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It, by Laurie H. Rogers. She shows how educators are neglecting critical content in our schools and how they are leaving students unprepared for college.

Concerning math, she writes, ”Administrators seem to prefer the comfort of vagueness and generalities, speaking glowingly of conceptual understanding, real-world application, and twenty-first century skills (whatever those are).”

She cites the 2008 report for the National Council on Teacher Quality which described the problem as a treadmill. ”We fail to teach mathematics well and our weak students become the teachers who produce the next crop of weak students.”

As Linh-Co states, our kids are not learning algebra, an important indicator of success in college.

Discovery math was a real force in this regression.

S parent

Anonymous said...

S parent, once again, please provide a link to the study that demonstrates "exactly when [UW] lowered standards in entrance math test scores." Furthermore, if you are claiming that the UW Admissions Office falsified the report it is required by state law to submit to the legislature, OSPI, the State Board of Education, et al, I would suggest you provide evidence of such a claim. If you cannot provide such evidence, your comment should be deleted per rules Melissa has outlined numerous times.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

A good study on discovery math versus traditional math was completed in August 2014 by the Economics of Education Review. They looked at Quebec, which switched to discovery math in all primary and secondary schools in the last decade, a comparable approach that was taken in the U.S.

They found that math achievement suffered at every grade and skill level by using the constructivism approach to math.

It was a disaster.

S parent

Anonymous said...

swk, Cliff Mass demonstrated this in a Where’s the Math? video link a few years ago. He charted how entrance test scores at the University of Washington declined during the time that discovery math was introduced in Washington state public schools. When the entrance test was watered down the scores went up.

I am sure he could provide this video material to you if you asked him.

I am not stating that the UW falsified some report. But they have a vested interest in making their Admissions standards look as good as possible. If they farm out their remedial classes to community colleges, as Linh-Co indicated, then these reports would look better.

S parent

Anonymous said...

S parent, the contracting of remedial education to the community colleges is a non-issue in this debate. They didn't start doing this as a result of an infusion of students with discovery math backgrounds. UW has always contracted remedial education out to the community colleges. This fact does have an effect on any reported change or otherwise to the remediation rates. It's a red herring.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

swk, one interesting comment from the Laurie Rogers book quoting Cliff Mass noted that 1/3 of UW students come from community colleges, where most already had remediation. So these figures are not in their remediation rates.

I think the biggest question is which curricula prepares students the best for college. From all the studies I have seen, it is not discovery math.

We will start finding out in Seattle, as elementary students use Math in Focus textbooks for the first time, replacing the discovery approach of Everyday Math. Hopefully, more fundamentally sound textbooks will be expanded to middle and high schools so we can really start preparing our students for college math.

S parent

Linh-Co said...

Studies Question Value of Early Algebra Lessons
By Sarah D. Sparks

Vancouver, British Columbia
Mastering algebra is widely considered the gateway to higher mathematics and college readiness, but new studies question whether low-performing students benefit from exposure to the subject in middle school.
Separate studies of urban middle schoolers in California and in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools suggest that placing struggling math students in algebra class does not improve their test performance on state math tests, and significantly hurts their grade point averages and the likelihood of their taking and passing higher math courses in high school.
California has led the country in efforts to introduce algebra concepts in lower grades. In 2008, the state board of education included algebra as part of the 8th grade end-of-year math test, thus requiring all students to take algebra by the end of middle school.
While pushback from the state education department and teachers’ unions has meant the policy has not been fully implemented, it did increase the number of students taking Algebra 1 and pre-algebra in 8th grade, according to Don Taylor, an education consultant for the California education department, and Michael Kurlaender and Heather Rose, researchers at the University of California, Davis.
The three presented findings from a study of California’s early-algebra initiative during an April 15 session at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference here.
Nationwide, the proportion of students taking algebra in 8th grade nearly doubled, from 16 percent to 31 percent, from 1990 to 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Mr. Taylor’s research. In California, however, algebra enrollment in that grade has more than tripled, from 16 percent of 8th graders taking algebra in 1990 to 54 percent in 2009, Mr. Taylor said.
The California researchers analyzed the coursetaking and math achievement of more than 22,000 students who started 7th grade between 2001 and 2004 in more than 20 schools in a large, unnamed urban district. They found that, for the nearly 2,400 students who performed in the lowest 10 percent on state math tests at the end of 7th grade, taking algebra in 8th grade had no significant effect on their state math-test performance at the end of 8th grade. And it caused their average GPAs to drop 7 percent, about the difference between a C and a C-minus.

Linh-Co said...

“What we can see is there’s a potential harm to a low-performing student on the GPA,” said Mr. Taylor, the lead author of the study. “It’s pretty important. The grade point average [is what] parents pay attention to, teachers pay attention to—it’s actually more salient to the kids than math [state tests]. So there’s clearly academic harm in the short term.”
North Carolina Results
Although the California study is ongoing and has not yet followed the students into high school, a separate studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader of students in the 141,100-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools does.
In 2002, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district launched a policy to change Algebra 1 from a high school to an 8th grade course.

Visit this blog.
“They didn’t change the course in algebra. They just offered it earlier on the assumption that ‘we are really holding kids back by not giving them access to algebra; we know not all students are going to pass this, but we want to have high expectations and err on the side of being more aggressive,’ ” said Charles T. Clotfelter, a professor of public policy, economics, and law at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., who tracked the policy effects with fellow Duke researchers Helen F. Ladd and Jacob L. Vigdor.
Unlike in the California study, the Duke researchers found that even moderately math-proficient students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg who were put into early-algebra classes performed significantly worse on state end-of-year math tests. Moreover, initially low-performing students who took Algebra 1 in 8th grade were significantly less likely to take more-advanced math courses, such as Algebra 2 or geometry, later.
The Duke study, the first results of which were released as a working paper in January by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, based in Washington, found that the achievement of students accelerated into algebra who had performed in the lowest 20 percent of 6th grade math tests declined by a full standard deviation in Algebra 1 end-of-course tests. Those students were 46 percent less likely to pass Algebra 1 by 10th grade.
“What we find is that this policy, while it might have allowed more time to take more courses later, on net, had a negative effect on most students, especially those students who weren’t stellar in math background,” Mr. Clotfelter said. “They went down to get students who, on net, probably should have waited a year. We’re giving this [course] and the message to [students] could have been, ‘You’re just not that good [at math].’
“For whatever reason, their preparation or their confidence wasn’t sufficient to let them do well on it, and it knocked them back on their heels,” he said.
In fact, the drop in scores and course taking was so dramatic that the Charlotte district changed its policy only two years later. The district now allows, but does not require, students to take accelerated algebra.

Linh-Co said...

Neither Mr. Clotfelter nor Mr. Taylor could say whether the negative effects of early algebra came from a lack of developmental readiness or academic preparation among the low-performing students, but other research points to the latter as a prime suspect.
Other countries, such as Japan, integrate algebraic concepts into early elementary school, suggesting there is no developmental reason algebra can't be taught earlier than high school.

In both the California district and in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, however, students were placed in formerly high-school-level courses without a transition from pre-algebra in earlier grades or accounting for students who might be performing at a 2nd grade level in arithmetic, according to a 2009 study by Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Preparation Needed
“It is possible for children in 8th grade or even younger to take algebra and do well in algebra, but not all students, and the defining characteristic seems to be prior knowledge,” Mr. Loveless said in an interview.
“If a student is well prepared, algebra is a good thing regardless of the student’s age,” he said, “but if a student is not prepared, it can be a bad thing, regardless of the student’s age. Developmental readiness shouldn’t mean a developmental mandate.”
In California, the universal-algebra policy is on hold in part because of such concerns.
“The bottom line is: It doesn’t appear that being in any [algebra] courses makes a difference in terms of the math [test],” Mr. Taylor said. “Does a universal policy really fit all kids? ... If we’re creating policies that don’t improve education for every single kid, maybe we should rethink those policies.”
The news wasn’t all bad for algebra at AERA; the American Institutes for Research’s “Back on Track” study with the University of Chicago found that introducing online and face-to-face summer algebra programs in Chicago led to a near-doubling of credit recovery for students who failed algebra in their freshman year, said Jessica B. Heppen, an AIR principal research analyst.

Linh-Co said...

Sorry Melissa for hogging space. SWK seems to imply if all kids were taking Algebra II and beyond, then remediation would not be a problem.

The article taken from Education Week. Here's the original link.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Linh-Co, for posting the article as well as the link. It would be especially awesome if I had asked whether early Algebra had an effect on math test scores, high school GPA or later high school math performance. Alas, I did not.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

And, did I imply that Algebra II would solve the remediation problem, or did I clearly state, "The strongest indicator of college-level math success is for students to pass Algebra II or higher while in high school AND to be engaged in higher level math skills in the senior year?" Don't put words in my mouth.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, S parent, but your arguments are just not holding water.

FYI - The same state law that requires UW and the other baccalaureates to report remediation rates to the legislature, OSPI, SBE, et al also requires the community and technical colleges to report their remediation rates. The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges annually report these rates (or at least they used to) and you can find such reports at http://www.sbctc.ctc.edu/college/d_deveducation.aspx. As you can surmise from my earlier posts, the rates have not statistically changed pre-discovery math or during its widespead usage.

The bottom line that neither you nor anyone else can point me to any empirical research that draws a direct correlation between the teaching of discovery math and increased remediation rates at 2- and/or 4-year colleges and universities.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

swk, I will again direct you to the Cliff Mass studies showing that entrance exams in math at UW declined significantly during the years of discovery math.

If you want to ignore the observations of 60 UW math and science professors, then by all means do so. These people are on the front lines of student achievement and they see the lack of skills.

The studies on remediation I have from OSPI are from 2007 and they show a 30% remediation level in math. This is an unacceptable level to me and I think we owe it to students to reduce it.

S parent

Mia said...


Melissa isn't a conspiracy theorist. She is fully informed and is watching educational trends.

Keep your eyes open. We can fully expect Murray and Burgess attempt to insert themselves into K-5 education via prek. Will the board stop them? Will we see Charles Wright and others be completely transparent?

Unknown said...


I was enjoying reading this thread but your negative tone toward other contributors has changed my opinion about your posts. I feel like you are communicating in a very strident tone. It must be nice to know that you are so right and that everyone else is so wrong. That, or they are a conspiracy theorist.


Anonymous said...

I apologize to all for my tone and aggressiveness. I beg forgiveness. A cold, a lack of sleep from the night before, and flashbacks to the bitterness of the Math Wars those many years ago turned me unjustifiably nasty. I do sincerely apologize for any offensive given.

My earlier apology to Melissa for calling her a conspiracy theorist was sincere but I'll apologize again.

With that, I am off to bed.

Mea culpa.

--- swk

Mia said...

Today, the Seattle Times Editorial board is banging the drum for mayoral control of Seattle Public Schools. There is big money behind this movement.

People used to say charter schools were illegal, too.

No conspiracy. Just give it time.

Linh--Co said...

Counting the cost of national maths failure
Natasha Bita

National Correspondent

Researcher Matthew Dean says first-year students have knowledge of maths concepts but lacResearcher Matthew Dean says first-year students have knowledge of maths concepts but lack the skills to solve problems. Source: News Corp Australia < PrevNext >
WHAT’S five times four? Geophysicist Peter Ridd was gobsmacked to see a first-year university student pull out a calculator to work out the no-brainer equation.

The James Cook University professor blames the dumbing down of a generation of Australian students on modern teaching philosophies that deride rote learning as “drill and kill”. His alarm is echoed by eminent maths, science and education professors concerned that under­qualified teachers, “student-led” pedagogy and assignment-based assessment methods are rendering a generation of Australian children innumerate.

“Modern educational theory says you don’t need knowledge because it’s all online; there’s Google,’’ Ridd tells Inquirer. “But you ultimately do need a basic proficiency in spelling and numbers; you need knowledge inside your head. I’ve seen uni kids, when I’ve asked them ‘What’s 61 x 0?’, pick up a calculator.’’

Scientist Jennifer Stow, a former Harvard University researcher with a PhD from Monash University and a postdoctoral degree from Yale, shares Ridd’s dismay. As laboratory head at the University of Queensland Institute for Molecular Bio­science, and a principal research fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Council, she teaches science to undergraduates and trains PhD students.

Stow is “flabbergasted” by what she views as substandard skills in maths and English among many Australian undergraduates. Foreign PhD science students outnumber the locals in her field, she says, because local students are so far behind in maths.

“They can’t do basic maths,’’ Stow tells Inquirer.

“A lot of them haven’t learned the times tables at school, they haven’t been drilled in spelling and they come to university not being able to do division.

“There are lots of international students at university now, and kids from places like Singapore have got much better reading, writing and maths skills than the Australian kids.’’

The sliding standards are spelled out in the latest results from the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment. The international PISA test, last conducted in 2012, reveals the numeracy levels of Australian teenagers have plunged so far in a decade that four out of 10 lack “baseline” maths skills.

Australia’s maths performance in Year 10 fell by the equivalent of six months of schooling between 2003 and 2012. Australia dropped from 11th to 19th place in the league table of 65 countries. China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan topped the class; the average 15-year-old from Shanghai is 1½ years ahead in maths than a typical Australian student. Just 15 per cent of Australian students were top performers, compared with 55 per cent in Shanghai. One-fifth of Australian students were ranked among the poorest performers in maths, in contrast to 3.8 per cent of Chinese students.

Linh-Co said...

The national curriculum for maths has won broad support from maths teachers and university educators. Kevin Donnelly, one of two educational experts appointed to review the curriculum for the Abbott government, believes style and quality of teaching count as much as the content.

“If it’s not rigorous, and teaching isn’t explicit and well structured, you do get into trouble,’’ he tells Inquirer. “There needs to be rote learning, memorisation and mental arithmetic so it becomes automatic. The fashion for the past 20 years has been very much against memorisation and we need to bring that back.’’

The steady decline in mathematics performance in Australian schools has resulted, in turn, in a shortage of qualified maths teachers. Thousands of children are being taught maths by teachers who specialised in humanities subjects at university.

“At high school the person teaching physics is more likely to be a physical education teacher than someone qualified to teach science,’’ notes Ridd.

Forty per cent of Australia’s maths teachers are “out of field”. Queensland’s Auditor-General has revealed that one in eight maths B teachers in years 11 and 12, and one in three maths teachers in years 8 to 10, lacks a tertiary qualification in maths. Four times more phys-ed teachers graduated from Queensland universities than maths teachers in 2012. The audit noted a shortage of maths, science and technology teachers in high schools — but an oversupply of physical education, music, drama and dance instructors.

Stephen Norton, a senior lecturer in mathematics education at Griffith University’s school of education and professional studies, tests the numeracy of all his would-be teachers. The results are worrying: the average undergraduate teacher has the maths skills of a Year 7 student. Half would struggle with a Year 9 National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy test, which measures basic levels of literacy and numeracy for 14-year-olds.

Linh-Co said...

Norton believes most univer­sity teaching courses fail to demand “reasonable levels of numeracy’’ from trainee teachers. Instead, course lecturers concentrate on teaching “learning theories, the role of technology, mathematics of indigenous cultures, learners’ attitudes towards mathematics and curriculum trends”. A typical four-year teaching degree, Norton says, dedicates just 32 hours to the teaching of maths.

“Every year I test my students and they’ve got the understanding of a Year 7 or Year 8 kid,’’ he says. “Maybe 25 per cent have a good knowledge. They struggle with fractions and proportional rea­soning and anything to do with algebra. I believe it is our res­ponsibility in universities to make sure we can remediate that.’’

Norton is critical of schools’ emphasis on “inquiry-based teaching” at the expense of drills and memorisation. Performance is falling, he says, “not because our kids are dumber; it’s because they haven’t got the basics”.

“We’ve got to find a balance where we don’t stifle creativity but we give students the basics to apply in higher order ways,” he arg­ues. “On the one hand, we want kids to discover how to do things themselves and be persistent and resilient. But what happens when you have inquiry-based pedagogy, with teachers who don’t ­really know the discipline and don’t emphasise the basic skills, is that children end up falling behind.”

One example of the modern “student-directed learning” style is the maths homework set for 10-year-olds at a Brisbane state school this week. “Write a reflection that highlights at least 2 areas in maths that you feel more confident about as we draw to the end of Year 5,’’ it says. “List at least two target areas that you would like to work on and explain what strategies you will use to take responsibility for your learning.”

Ridd, the James Cook University scientist who despairs at the reliance on calculators for simple sums, is highly critical of Queensland’s unique but controversial assessment methods for high school maths. While other states and territories rely on regular external testing of kids’ maths ability, Queensland high schools set a series of written assignments that can be 10,000 words long.

“We (scientists) want someone who can solve an equation and add fractions,’’ Ridd says. “The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority wants someone who can write an essay. The problem for us is the mark that comes down from the high school is a very poor predictor of whether the students can do simple maths. The subject has been hijacked by education theorists who have no idea what’s going on.”

A Queensland parliamentary inquiry has recommended that external testing be introduced for 50 per cent of students’ marks in years 11 and 12 — in line with the southern states — with a limit of one written maths assignment each year.

The Liberal National Party government, having sat on the findings for 14 months, is now promising a “draft response” by Christmas. This week it published a vague “30-year vision” on education reform, which referred to the need to “attract, retain and reward the best and brightest teachers”. It will appoint 300 “master teachers” to 463 schools next year. Queensland is also reviewing its OP system, which ranks students on their “overall position” in relation to other students, without external exams.

Linh-Co said...

It is telling that Education Queensland’s selective Academy of Science, Mathematics and Technology — reserved for the state’s brightest students — has shunned the official curriculum. Instead, its students study the International Baccalaureate Diploma, which the academy describes as a “program for rigorous learning and assessment”.

Matthew Dean, a researcher and former first-year lecturer at the University of Queensland school of mathematics and physics, believes teachers who let kids use calculators at primary school are “ruining children’s lives”.

In a submission to the national curriculum review, Dean explained that technology had a “smart end” consisting of the creators, and a “dumb end” of consumers. “Rather than making all Australian students and parents pay to be at the dumb end of technology, a good education system would give students the freedom to one day be at the smart, creative end, if they so choose,” he wrote. “The way to this freedom and ability is through mastering mathematics — the power of thought behind science and technology.”

Dean likens reciting the times table to learning musical scales on the piano: boring and repetitive but essential to mastering more advanced pieces. Having lectured first-year maths students at university for five years, he notes that many have knowledge of mathematical concepts but not the skills to solve problems. “It’s as if they’ve done a mathematical appreciation course,” he says. “They know of things but don’t have the skill to do it themselves.”

Nationally, the number of Year 12 students enrolled in advanced maths has fallen 22 per cent in a decade, choking the supply of graduates for research institutions and industry.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute is warning of a looming skills shortage for industries such as banking, mining, information security, IT, biotech and communications.

Stow, whose groundbreaking medical research is tracking the movement of proteins within cells, complains that high school students are getting “dumber by the minute”. She champions a return to the times tables and spelling bees in primary school. “There is no substitute for rote learning and it is the only way to build neural networks and imprint things into your brain,” she insists.

A surgeon, Stow argues, has no time to Google in an emergency. “You can’t operate that way,” she says. “You need a certain amount of basic skills and instant recall to do the job properly. You’ve got a computer; it’s called your brain.’’

Anonymous said...

Linh-Co, thank you for these stats from Australia. They parallel the movement we had in Washington state under former State Superintendent Terry Bergeson, who spent millions of dollars in teacher training and tutoring programs to promote the same type of math.

Carla Santorno followed along by placing Everyday Math textbooks into Seattle elementary schools, which relied strongly on calculators and inquiry-based problems. Maria Goodloe-Johnson chose the Discovering textbooks for high school, even though the WA State Board of Education called the books mathematically unsound.

Now we have a new board that is reversing these decisions. Of course the Seattle Times is bashing them in today’s paper. But they do cite the high remedial rates, which I agree are unacceptable.

S parent

Watching said...


I'm glad you are open to more information.

You will find Diane Ravitch will open your eyes. Consider subscribing to her newsletter:


Those folks from Long Island, New York really have it going on!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Watching, I am always open to new information but, I have to be honest, nothing that anyone has posted has answered my request --- please show me an empirical study that show a direct correlation between instruction in discovery/constructivist math and an increase in remedial math in college. Linh-Co is close but she/he doesn't have it.

It's OK. She/he is convinced. There's nothing that I've said or will say to change that. I can be sweet as pie but there's no changing some people's minds.

As for Diane Ravitch, I've been reading her stuff and following her for a very, very long time.

My intent is not to convince those of you who have decided for themselves what's what when it comes to math achievement. I'm aiming for those people on the fence --- those who are interested in a viewpoint that differs from the Where's The Math? crowd and let them decide for themselves.

--- swk

Linh-Co said...

The establishment has always put the onus on others to prove constructivist math does not work but has made no effort to show us where it's working. From my experience as a teacher and private math tutor, I've experienced working with many students who were not served by it.

Traditional math did not work for everyone, but most of our generation are able to do basic arithmetic with all four operations. I'm seeing kids who are unable to add, subtract, multiply, and divide with multi-digit numbers in a efficient manner without a calculator. We are not talking about upper level math. Many high school teachers I've talked to have noticed the same.

SWK, you accuse me of being closed minded in the math debate but you are no better.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is interesting. So now the MSP is the gatekeeper... Perform well enough on that as a 4th grader and you can take the MAP as a 5th grader to determine your math placement as a 6th grader. 5th graders are taking the MSP, MAP and Amplify tests now--really? (and some schools have 6th grade math placement testing the first week of middle school!)

--avoiding uncertainly

Dear Seattle Public Schools family of a fifth-grader,

To make an initial sixth-grade math placement recommendation, Seattle Public Schools reviews both fourth-grade Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) scores – the state tests administered in the spring – and fifth-grade Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores – one type of district test.

This year, some elementary schools are not administering MAP to their students. Principals have been notified that even if the school is not participating in MAP testing for all students, fifth-graders who scored a 426 or higher on the fourth-grade math MSP should be MAP tested. (See the attached placement matrix for details.)

Your elementary principal has received a list of all fifth-graders who scored a 426 or higher on the MSP and will be scheduling them for MAP testing. Families who would like to see their student’s math MSP score may log in to the Source on the district website: https://ps.seattleschools.org/. After logging in, find the assessments link in the menu on the left.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

And two final things and then I'm going to be done on this topic for now:

(1) I'm not a supporter of constructivist math but I'm also not an opponent of it either. I think there are approaches that work for some kids (even a small percentage, possibly) that don't work for others and vice versa. If you honestly re-read my posts, you'll find no explicit support for constructivist math approaches. My only point was to find a direct line from constructivist math and poor math performance in college that was/is supported by an empirical study and not anecdotes.

(2) What I do care about and have my entire career is the post-high school success of students. And I'm pleading with people, Singapore math supporters included, to convince students to continue to take rigorous mathematics through at least Algebra II if they intend to go to college or want to earn a family wage. While Algebra II might not ensure that a student can avoid remedial math in college, not taking Algebra II or higher will definitely ensure that they will take remedial math in college.

--- swk

Linh-Co said...

SWK I completely agree with statement 2.

Math advocates have always encouraged everyone to take as much math as possible even if he/she is not considering STEM. No one wants to limit students of math classes. Our focus was on the improvement of students' preparation in order to ensure success in upper level math.

Anonymous said...

swk - the Cliff Mass study was data tracking freshman entrance exams in math. It was not anecdotes.

You ignore all evidence from other countries that have done side by side comparisons of constructivist math to traditional math. Evidently, the stubbornly high remedial rates are not trending high enough to convince you that constructivist math is bad.

Who knows how many students who avoid remedial studies have supplemented with outside tutors? As parents have figured out the limitations of current math curricula, they have turned to outside help. Unless, of course, they cannot afford it.

It would be great for students to take upper level Algebra II or higher. Unfortunately, with such poor preparation in earlier grades, too many will never get there.

S parent

Anonymous said...

There's also a big difference between TAKING Algebra II and actually LEARNING the material. EOC exams are easy to pass without really knowing the material well.

The same is true with higher level math. You only need to get about 1/3 of the questions right to get a 3 on the AP Calculus exam, and 2/3 to get a "perfect" 5. It might make people feel good to pass EOCs and get high scores on AP exams, but if these results don't really reflect mastery it seems like we're setting people up for future problems.

Half Full

Lynn said...

Related to Melissa's comment that the test is designed for some to fail:

From the Superintendent's Friday Memo to the board: Smarter Balanced – The SBAC Consortium (not WA) has now set “cut scores” for the SBAC field test. For the consortium (not WA) students taking the field test last year: 41% were proficient in ELA (Literacy), 33% were proficient in Math. 11th graders will take the SBAC and will generate NCLB/AMO scores that will measure district, school and teacher growth. The same TEST will likely be used to determine whether a student graduates or not. WA State is able to determine cut scores for graduation. The state may set a lower cut score for 11th grade to keep the graduation hurdle about where it is now – 80%.

Anonymous said...

So passing the SBAC doesn't say anything about proficiency, right? Then what, really, is the point?

Half Full

Linh-Co said...

A report from the Fordham Institute on the "Proficiency Illusion" of cut scores on standarized test. It is extremely troubling that individual states can choose whatever cut scores they see fit.


To examine states' cut scores carefully, you need a yardstick external to the state itself, something solid and reliable that state-specific results and trends can be compared with. So we turned to the Northwest Evaluation Association, which has a long-lived, rock-steady scale and a "Measures of Academic Progress" assessment used for diagnostic and accountability purposes by schools and school systems in many states. Not all states, to be sure, but it turns out that in a majority of them (26, to be precise), enough kids participate in both MAP and the state assessment to allow for useful comparisons to be made and analyses performed.

The findings of this inquiry are sobering, indeed alarming. We see that "proficiency" varies wildly from state to state, with "passing scores" ranging from the seventh (MAP) percentile to the 75th. We show that, over the past few years, twice as many states have seen their tests become easier in at least two grades. (Though we note, with some relief, that most state tests have maintained their level of difficulty--such as it is--over this period.) And we learn that only a handful of states peg proficiency expectations consistently across the grades, with the vast majority setting thousands of little Susies up to fail by middle school by aiming low in elementary school.

America is awash in achievement "data," yet the truth about our educational performance is far from transparent and trustworthy. It may be smoke and mirrors. What to conclude?

First, Congress erred big-time when NCLB assigned each state to set its own standards and devise and score its own tests; no matter what one thinks of America's history of state/local primacy in k-12 education, this study underscores the folly of a big modern nation, worried about its global competitiveness, nodding with approval as Colorado sets its eighth-grade reading passing level at the seventh percentile on the NWEA scale while South Carolina sets its at the 71st percentile. A youngster moving from middle school in Boulder to high school in Charleston would be grievously unprepared for what lies ahead. So would a child moving from third grade in Detroit to fourth grade in Albuquerque.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that parents are opting out because they believe there is too much testing & are afraid of teachers being pushed to 'teach to the test'. What I saw a couple of years ago was parents pushing schools to replace honors classes with AP classes.

Those classes added an extra 50 hours of testing for my high schooler and the whole year was teaching to the test for each class. Most of the year was spent doing practice tests & memorizing, very little creative or critical thinking. Several AP classes were required courses (lang arts & social studies) & others offered no non-AP equivalent (math & science).

-hs parent