Sunday, October 11, 2009

Content Mastery And Skill Fluency

Some Thoughts on Reports I Read Recently
Also, read the latest at K-12 Education by ThinkAlgebra

1. The GAP!
Today, more high school kids are tackling advanced math courses and getting higher grades, but this radical change has not improved math skills much since the 1970s, according to data from the NAEP Long Term Trends (LTT) study (1978-2008) for 17-year olds.¹ In short, there is a large gap between what K-12 schools say they are teaching and what students are actually learning. The gap is much smaller in high performing nations like Singapore and Hong Kong.

Student performance on both national and international tests and on math placement tests at colleges and universities indicates the woeful lack of effectiveness of K-12 math instruction. The LTT longitudinal study, which started in the 1970s and given every few years, demonstrates that our students are about the same today as they were in the 1970s, says Mark Schneider¹, a researcher from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI).  Tests like PISA, TIMSS, the regular NAEP, given every two years, and college placement tests support the LLT study. Attempts to improve math performance (e.g., NCTM math) have not worked as expected. Our students lag behind internationally, not by a little, but by a lot.

Schneider points out a lack of rigor in many high school math courses. He argues, "If policymakers decide that a mark of a successful high school career is the completion of Algebra II, then schools enroll more students into a course called Algebra II. But not all math courses are equal--and it is easier to rebrand courses and still teach low-level math than it is to increase the rigor of math instruction [my emphasis]."¹  

Solving Quadratic Equations in Algebra-1

Students who want to go to college and who are given weak or substandard algebra courses in high school will end up taking remedial math courses when they apply for postsecondary education. The college math placement test is mostly algebra skills There are huge numbers of high school graduates in the remedial math trap because of bad instruction and diluted algebra courses. For example, at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, over 380 remedial math classes are offered in its Fall 2009 catalog, ranging from basic math (6th-grade math) to intermediate algebra (Algebra II).