Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Superficial ed reporting

Fuzzy math enthusiasts like to justify their enthusiasm by invariably pointing to supposedly towering test scores attributed to fuzzy math. This self-congratulation then gets reported uncritically in the media. See, for example, Everyday Math multiplies in schools:

But administrators at Clayton and Edwardsville stand by the program.

"Look at the scoreboard," Keenoy said, referring to Clayton's high test scores.

Edwardsville has seen its math scores jump since it started the program in 2001 by up to 20 percent in a grade level, some of the highest overall in the area. And the number of students taking higher math classes in high school has nearly tripled, said Lynda Andre, assistant superintendent for instruction.

What education reporters fail to do is ask a series of critical questions and do some investigating. For example, reporters could ask: What math questions are on these tests? Are these tests possibly geared to fuzzy math? Is there math instruction outside of fuzzy math, e.g. from parents or tutors?

The article does point out that there is supplementary math instruction.

Both districts have addressed some of the perceived shortfalls by requiring teachers to supplement the program with timed tests and exercises on basic math facts.
Could that and other unreported factors like parent involvement and tutoring contribute to the supposedly high tests scores attributed to fuzzy math?

6 comments:

Instructivist said...

Everyday Math multiplies in schools
By Alexa Aguilar
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Jan. 02 2006

You buy a clock that costs $78. You pay with a $100 bill. How much is your
change?

The group of second-graders presented with this problem last month at Leclaire
Elementary School in Edwardsville didn't immediately grab their pencils and
subtract 78 from 100.

Instead, they grabbed their "number charts." A minute later, hands shot up.

Teacher Carol Peterson called on student after student, asking, "How did you
figure out the problem?"

When Armani went to the board to show his classmates, he counted on his chart
by 10s from 78 to 88 to 98, and moved over two "ones" to reach the right
answer, 22. Peterson complimented him by saying, "I like your strategy."

It's called Everyday Math - a reform curriculum developed by the University of
Chicago in the 1980s and now used by nearly 3 million students throughout the
United States.

That number includes Clayton and Edwardsville students. Some St. Charles
elementary schools recently started using it, and several more school districts
in the Metro area are considering the program.

Its hallmark is its emphasis on encouraging students to use different
strategies to solve problems, instead of one standard way. The program also
"spirals" instruction - introducing a topic, then returning later to master it.
Everyday Math introduces concepts like algebraic variables, geometry and
measurements early. The program also urges students to use "manipulatives" or
tangible items, like cubes or cards, to solve a problem or master a concept.

But its nontraditional focus may also mean that parents of elementary children
are mystified by the way their children are completing multiplication,
addition, division or subtraction problems.

For example, a child adding 326 to 575 would first add the hundreds column,
then the tens, then the ones, then add up the results - a foreign strategy for
many adults.

"I've wanted to throw the math book into the driveway about five times," said
Stephanie Louvier, whose fourth-grader, Jordan, is a student at Blackhurst
Elementary in St. Charles. "I have to learn it right along with him."

Local schools have sponsored "math nights" to help parents become acclimated to
the program. Teachers send home family letters at the beginning of the unit to
explain what's coming. That has helped ease some of the concern the district
heard when the program formally began in Clayton in 2000, said Jan Keenoy,
Clayton's elementary curriculum coordinator.

In other states, however, the "math wars" over programs like Everyday Math vs.
traditional math have parents complaining that their children are frustrated
with the pacing and that they should be studying the traditional algorithms.

Many academics agree, saying programs like Everyday Math will leave children
woefully unprepared by focusing too much on hands-on exercises instead of
drills and practice. When Clayton schools adopted Everyday Math, J. Martin
Rochester, a professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, cautioned in
an op-ed piece in the Post-Dispatch that the program placed too little emphasis
on the basics.

But administrators at Clayton and Edwardsville stand by the program.

"Look at the scoreboard," Keenoy said, referring to Clayton's high test scores.

Edwardsville has seen its math scores jump since it started the program in 2001
by up to 20 percent in a grade level, some of the highest overall in the area.
And the number of students taking higher math classes in high school has nearly
tripled, said Lynda Andre, assistant superintendent for instruction.

Both districts have addressed some of the perceived shortfalls by requiring
teachers to supplement the program with timed tests and exercises on basic math
facts.

Keenoy said several parents had at first complained about the "spiraling" -
that the teacher moved on before their children had mastered the concept and
that instruction jumped around too much.

For example, a first-grade text may touch on tally marks, then jump to time and
money. It looks like a "discombobulated bunch of muck," but all three topics
deal with the concept of bundling into fives, Keenoy said.

"I think many of the critics still see math as needing to be taught formally in
compartments," she said.

Carol Peterson, who has taught second grade at Leclaire Elementary School in
Edwardsville for 29 years, was skeptical in 2001 that her second-graders could
grasp some of the concepts in the new program. She knew the program was
selected because it closely mirrored state standards for math, but she and
others were nervous, she said.

Now, she loves teaching math.

"I think the children truly understand math instead of just memorizing it," she
said.

She sees in some of the lessons for her second-graders the groundwork for
algebra and geometry.

Rob Canada, a fifth-grade teacher at Columbus Elementary in Edwardsville, knows
some of his students' parents aren't thrilled with the methods. But to him, the
traditional way worked only for people who could jump through the hoops. And
the spiraling that so many hate allows more students to master the concepts
with repeat exposures, he said.

His school Web site shows dozens of pictures of students playing games that
teach fractions, probability and polygons.

"I have no doubt that this is the way to do it," he said. He noted that more
than 90 percent of Columbus students met or exceeded state math tests.

Keenoy said she knows that a significant number of people nationwide think
Everyday Math is horrible. She monitors the math wars, reading the criticism
online.

"We want to make sure our bases are covered, that we see what the criticism
is," she said. "We are constantly monitoring the data and asking ourselves, 'Is
this working for our students?'" she said.

aaguilar@post-dispatch.com 618-659-3636
_____________________________________________________________________

NYC Math Teacher said...

As a 6th grade math teacher in NYC, I am frustrated -- frustrated when I see students reach the 6th grade unable to do 7 x 8 without counting by 8s (and still getting it wrong because they don't know how to add either). As the parent of a child in a gifted kindergarten class using a University of Chicago "Everyday Math" workbook, I am frightened.

As my son continues in school, presumably using everyday math, would I be off base insisting that he use traditional algorithms that I teach him at home?

Barry G. said...

My daughter's schools uses Everyday Math. I teach her what she needs to know at home. I use the textbooks they use in Singapore. They are quite effective and available on the internet.

As for tests and what they show, Instructivist is correct. The tests accomodate the inferior programs. There is evidence on the NY State Regents exam that on some constructed response questions (i.e., written, not multiple choice), students are given higher points on a problem for making more "guesses" at a solution than those who get it right in one try. So the "guess and check" method of solving problems--a highly inefficient way of solving problems that does not generalize and takes kids away from the goal of learning algebra--is become de rigeur. Yes, I'd like to see journalists write about that.

Barry Garelick

NYC Educator said...

The problem with testing as a panacea is that you can certainly write and produce tests to derive whatever results you're looking for. If I got mad at one of my classes, which I have, I could write a test that no one could pass (which I have not).

NY State, which is lauded for its rigorous testing program, simply lowers the passing grade when it isn't satisfied with the results, as it did on a math Regents a few years back.

NYC Math Teacher said...

Thought everyone might be interested in this article about a study that debunks the primacy of manipulatives:

http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/common/EditorialSearch/AViewer.aspx?AN=SP_06jan2_spp23.html&AD=01-02-2006

JackieBennett said...

Pointing out the problem with using test scores as an indicator of achievement with fuzzy math, the Instructivist asks us to ask: "Are these tests possibly geared to fuzzy math?"

Yes, they are.

But the really scary thing is this: it’s not just math.

Across the disciplines, tests in NY test for “skills” and “process” over content. In fact, virtually all of the NY state tests (ie, the High School Regents in Living Environment, Earth Science, and Global History) are now almost completely devoid of content. Whatever content they do contain is so outweighed in the scoring by questions in which all of the information is provided, that students with a middling reading ability (about seventh or eighth grade), but with virtually no knowledge of a their subject can pass. Some, in fact, can even do quite well.

And that’s why Klein and the Klein clones that he’s sent out to the schools can get away with ramming a groups-groups pedagogy down the throats of city teachers. Teachers are told to teach nothing, and then voila! the tests test for the nothing that we teach.

Thus though the public may believe that a student who passes a Bio Regents must have some passing knowledge of the main components of the digestive, nervous, and skeletal system, the fact is that all we really know about that student is that he can read on a pretty basic level.

And, ironically, it’s quite possible that one of the main reasons our students can’t read beyond a basic level is because no one ever bothered to teach him any content.

Why bother? No one cares what the students learn, or what they are tested for. The only thing that matters is that they pass the tests.

The operation is a complete and total success. And the patient?

Dead.