Cliff Mass and Math

Some of you may know Cliff Mass as the Atmospheric Sciences Professor at UW who does the forecasts on KUOW. He has also taken a deep interest in the math taught at K-12 (as he is an end user of the students and he had kids in SPS). He has a weather blog but he took time to write a long thread about math. He says a lot of interesting things and has a great quiz which I confess I failed. His point on the quiz, though, is that it shouldn't be difficult for students who just graduated from high school and got into UW.

There's a link to the quiz at his blog.

Recommended reading.


zb said…
Interesting post, and interesting post. Anyone else up for posting their results?

I got 11/12 (you can't do the cos(alpha) question on the PDF 'cause there's no diagram, though I do know how to do that). I missed 11b (admittedly, because I didn't notice the /, but I did miss it).

The test is very definitional -- it doesn't test math knowledge, in any real sense. But, people who know math should be able to do these problems, because they're pretty fundamental definitions. On the other hand, I do think students just gave up on some of the questions (i.e. the arithmetic) because they were told it doesn't matter).

And, I'm really unsure about what it means about math pedagogy. What's missing here is historical context, and a correlation with pedagogy. Would students be better at doing this if they were taught differently? And, more important to me, would a grownup (25 years out of the rote of math class) be able to do better if she were taught differently? It's really not enough for me if students who just graduated can do the test, but not those five years out.

(PS: I got to wonder if Mass got human protocol approval to do this experiment, and if someone would think that he should. And, it would be lovely to see the same data with deception -- i.e. tell the students that they are going to be assigned in someway or have the grade count and see the test answers. That would require a protocol, though, and might be difficult to get through).
dan dempsey said…
The Seattle School District not only has a completely ineffective k-12 math program when it comes to educating educationally disadvantaged students, it also does not provide the effective interventions mandated in the school board's promotion / non-promotion policies.

If effective interventions were provided the numbers of students far below standard would decline as students spent more time in Seattle schools but the reverse seems to be true.

The HS math program adopted is discovery based rather than skill based.
The district fails to provide very large numbers of black students with necessary skills.

Check the data for 2009
2009 WASL math

percent of Black students classified as
well below standard or no score

grade 3 37.40%
grade 4 49.20%
grade 5 36.60%
grade 6 50.90%
grade 7 61.40%
grade 8 47.50%
grade 10 68.50%

Actual effective proven math Best practices are continually ignored.
These can be found in
Project Follow Through results
Visible Learning by John Hattie

I have spent three years pointing out this ongoing failure to the school board to NO avail.

The High School math adoption legal appeal will be heard in Superior Court on Monday Jan 11 in King County Superior Court.

plaintiffs are
Da'Zanne Porter
Cliff Mass
Martha McLaren
Bird said…
On the other hand, I do think students just gave up on some of the questions (i.e. the arithmetic) because they were told it doesn't matter).

I said this on Cliff's blog, but I'll say it again here. I don't really believe that just because the test wasn't for a grade that it should be considered anything less to worry about.

It is a very easy test for anyone with a rudamentary knowledge of arithmentic and some very basic algebra. I haven't taken math in twenty years and the whole thing took me no more than a couple of minutes and practically no mental effort.

I guess you a kid could "give up" on '231/7 = ?' if they weren't ever taught long division and had a really poor grasp of basic multiplications facts. It'd probably take a fair amount of effort to come up with an answer under those circumstances.

As a product of the "drill and kill" times in math education, I can't even look at that problem without seeing the correct answer more or less immediately.
My basic skills don't even give me enough time to 'give up'. It'd take me longer to think up a wrong answer than it would to realise the right answer.

Cliff's results are evidence for a disaster of jaw-dropping proportions. 43% can't give the formula for the area of a circle. Only 17% can solve y=x(1-x). Yikes!

Say what you will about who you think these students are and how much effort they put into the test, but even if you when you cut excuses and pad out the numbers accordingly, the number of students passing is still FAR, FAR too low.

So is the current crop of college students likely to be a product of TERC
dan dempsey said…
TERC/Investigations and Everyday Math were used by 2/3 of the students in this state.
About 90% of the students in WA used these reform math programs or ones equally poor thanks to Dr. Bergeson's OSPI recommendations of most WASL aligned elementary math materials.

Telling it like it is:
Take this Paradigm and Shove It
dan dempsey said…
And where are the October 2008 PSAT results?

What is the matter with our school board that they allow the Central Administration to continue hiding results?
Dorothy Neville said…
I have the October 2008 PSAT results. They were handed out at the last C&I committee meeting mid December. Day late and a dollar short, but they are out. Were supposed to be made available to the general public any day now, in response to public document request. Useless Mean scores per school and district. Interesting data was on participation rates by school. (Interesting = 'Made DeBell and Martin-Morris mad')
Patrick said…
I posted on Cliff's blog too. These results are appalling. For those who thought the students weren't bothering, I am skeptical. It's not really in any of the students' interests for their professor to think most of them belong back in freshman year of high school.

Even worse, consider that these are students who chose to sign up for a math-intensive science class. Students who know they are weak in math are probably taking some other class, even for science distribution requirements.

I did get them all. I did the division and the algebra on paper, I'm sure 25 years ago I could have done them in my head.
TechyMom said…
I usually agree with Cliff Mass on math, but I would not expect high levels of math skill in this particular class. I took Atmospheric Science 101 from Prof Mass at UW. It was a great class and I learned a lot, but I don't recall any math at all. I know it didn't have labs (that's why I chose it). It's typically taken by non-science majors to fill a natural science distribution requirement. There were lectures in a 700-student room in Kane Hall and two multiple choice exams, covering things like categorization of clouds. So, I wouldn't expect better math scores in this class than in, say, English 101.

Now, that said, the test is something that I would hope all HS grads could complete. I'd be interested to see the results in a class that is actually full of science majors.
zb said…
"For those who thought the students weren't bothering, I am skeptical. It's not really in any of the students' interests for their professor to think most of them belong back in freshman year of high school."

Did Cliff mention how many questions were left blank, versus having an incorrect answer? That would help us determine whether the kids were trying or not.

I see nothing in this data that suggests we can attribute the poor performance to the current method of math instruction. I don't want to pick on Melissa -- but, I'm just as concerned that she did poorly on the exam as that Mass's atmos 101 (for non-majors) students did. If methods of teaching the kids results in them carrying the knowledge through their senior year in college, but no further, then we haven't really gained anything.

We now have 4 people who've taken the test who've posted here. 3/4 did better than Mass's students. I'd really like to see results from 200 college educated adults and see how we fall out. Then we could talk about pedagogy rather than just complaining.

I'll admit that I would be deeply shocked if my colleagues couldn't score well on the test. On the other hand, I can't say the same of the adults in my children's school.

Can we do the experiment? Any of you have other adults you can press into taking the test? I know of the 3 others I can ask that 2 would do well and the 3rd doesn't have a college (or high school) degree.
zb said…
"Now, that said, the test is something that I would hope all HS grads could complete. I'd be interested to see the results in a class that is actually full of science majors."

I think the point he's trying to make is that he things that all HS grades, or certainly all HS grades who are going to college should be able to do those problems. I agree. But, I think that your average college educated adult in a non-STEM field would score no better than his 101 students. That's my hypothesis.

I'm not sure I could convince my non-STEM friends to do this test, and that reflects the same behavior I'd expect of the students, that the level of skills is such that the test requires effort that they're not interested in expending.

PS: I think that you have to actually take the test, though, not just look at the test with answers and say that you could do it.
Oh kids, well, I am one of those non-math people. My husband aced it, my senior got 85%. (I was at an outlet mall this past Sunday and was amused at the number of people who could not figure out, even estimate, what 40% off was. I'm not that bad.)

I worry about lack of math skills for jobs where it is in use every single day but I worry even more that people don't understand interest rates, mortgages, items on sale, etc. That's all of us.
dan dempsey said…
News from the ACT in 2009

Only analysis of those taking ACT

and WA has a very ACT low participation rate.

So of this fairly exclusive group of college applicants from WA,
58% are ready for college level course work in math.
Patrick said…
I wouldn't expect an adult working in a non-STEM field to be able to do well on the test 10+ years after college. But I would expect them to be able to pick it up with a quick refresher if they needed it.

Much like my high school Spanish.

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