Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For in Assessment

Anthony Rebora:

The Common Core State Standards for mathematics, now being introduced in schools across the country, set new grade-by-grade expectations for deepening students' understanding of math concepts, with an emphasis on algebraic thinking.

But while many accomplished math teachers are enthusiastic about the standards' emphasis on mathematical reasoning and strategic expertise over rote computation, some say the transition to the new framework poses daunting challenges for students who are already behind in math.

"Every time I talk to other teachers, this issue comes up," said Silvestre Arcos, the founding math teacher at KIPP Washington Heights Middle School, a charter school in New York City. "The big question is, how do we build up these advanced skills with kids who come in behind?"

Students need "prerequisite knowledge" to meet the new grade-level expectations mapped out in the common standards, said José Vilson, who teaches 8th grade math at I.S. 52, a public middle school a in New York City's Inwood neighborhood. But by the time they reach him, students at his school—many of whom are English-language learners—often "have a lot of catching up to do," he said.

This is probably more or less what the situation already is with the NECAP math, but for some reason it doesn't really kick in until you hit the 11th grade version, or maybe the cut scores just go crazy at that point.

The problem is that if you've got a test that requires a deep, rich set of mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills, this might not cut it:

This year’s high school juniors already have access to math problems and tutors online. In addition, many districts are offering remedial help after school or during the summer.

What if you've created an assessment regime that is truly resistant to quick fixes and test prep? What do you do with kids who fall behind if it takes maximum effort to keep up at all? What if you run a query on your magic inBloom database that shows that anyone who has failed a year of math after seventh grade only has a 5% chance of ever getting over a "1" on the 11th grade NECAP math no matter what interventions you try subsequently?

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