Friday, September 28, 2012

I'm Baaaaacccckkkk

Well, we survived summer and the start of school.  With the new school year comes many changes here in Greenwich.  We have a new Superintendent and a new Math Coordinator.  I have had the pleasure of meeting both of them, and I am very encouraged by their outlook and openness.   They have started the preliminary steps toward the math curriculum review, which will begin in earnest with the publication of the Math Monitoring Report at the beginning of November.  The new format for monitoring reports established by the Board of Education last school year should provide an excellent foundation and starting point for the review. 

Will Everyday Math figure in the equation for the review?  EDM is very different in structure from the Common Core Standards (e.g., spiraling versus teaching to mastery).  For EDM to claim alignment to the Common Core will require a major shift in their philosophy, or a great sales job.  But hey, didn’t that get us to where we are now?  Let’s hope we don’t repeat history (I thought we were talking about math, Brian).  Beware of salesmen bearing books!

Even if we dump EDM next year, we still have to worry about the “lost generation” of students who learned (and I use that word loosely) their elementary school math using that program.  Many teachers recognized the failings of EDM and heavily supplemented the program to try to teach the basics.  But not all teachers had the background or experience to supplement.  By the time we get rid of EDM, there will be five or six classes which received the majority of their math education in elementary school under Everyday Math.  What are we going to do to ensure that these students know the basics?  I’ve heard two stories of honors students (advanced math students) who got to high school, then had to ask their parents how to do long division.  Ask a middle school math teacher (off the record, if they will comment) what their take is on how well prepared the students are. 

Speaking of the Common Core, there has been much debate about the Common Core State Standards, with several states questioning their involvement.  The Standards were judged (at least in one review) to be better than most of the individual state standards, so only a few states (not Connecticut) would have a argument with the Standards based on quality.  The main reasons for a second look are (1) concerns about giving up local control for a “national“ standard, and (2) cost.  Most states jumped to the CCSS to provide a path away from the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  This was sort of a Catch 22.  Avoid NCLB by signing up for another centralized set of requirements.  Either way, the national government is increasing its involvement in what is, constitutionally, a state and local purview. 

Apparently most states also jumped before they understood the cost to implement the Common Core.  The publishers and the test makers are so very happy.

Next up: a slightly different take on the Achievement Gap.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mom Told Me Not to Say “I Told You So”

The link below takes you to a press release dealing with a research article discussing the relationship between “Math Success” and knowledge of fractions and long division.  As you might guess, there is a strong relationship.  I am trying to find a copy of the full article so that I can provide you with better information. 

Remember previous postings highlighting ability with fractions and decimal division (long division).  Remember the common complaints (there are so many, of course they are common) about Everyday Mathematics lack of focus on these areas.
Take a look at the YouTube presentation by one of the authors:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different

I don’t necessarily want to get off the math track (sorry, tracking is a bad word) here, but an article in the NY Times on Monday makes me wonder what we are missing on the other side of the three R’s (writing and reading). 

The article talks about the changes made to the scoring of the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test when the scores plummeted from last year.  Only 27% of fourth graders were proficient, down from 81% the previous year.  According to the article “The numbers fell so drastically because, as announced last summer, state officials toughened the standards, paying more attention to grammar and spelling as well as to the factual accuracy of supporting details.”

I may be old fashioned, but isn’t “paying attention” another phrase for actually grading the test properly?  How can you judge proficiency when you are discounting grammar and spelling, as appears was done under the old standards? 

The rest of the article is interesting, especially the solution to the reduced number if students reaching proficiency.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Push, Push, Push

I spoke at the Board of Education meeting on 24 May to urge the administration to start the Math Curriculum review before November, which is the date for the delivery of the next Math Monitoring Report.  The curriculum review policy is being discussed now in committee, and as written, would rely on the Monitoring Report to kick off the process.

First, congratulations to the high school and middle school Math teams for their first place finishes in Connecticut competitions.

Thank you for your recent actions regarding the acceleration of a math curriculum review.  This is a great first step. 

Recognizing the impact of the proposed revisions to Policy E001, I would like to make a case for the initiation of this review prior to the delivery of the next Math Monitoring Report scheduled for November 2012.  The reasoning for this is simple timing.  If that report triggers the start of the 12-18 month cycle for the review, the earliest implementation would be September 2014, which is the start of the school year with the new standardized testing. 
Initiation now, or more realistically as soon as a new Math Coordinator is appointed, still provides the opportunity to conduct a thorough review and to have time for professional development prior to the start of the 2013-14 school year.  The budget cycle would allow for this timing.   I recognize the unsettled nature of some of the programs being offered for sale as Common Core compliant.  However, investigating the experiences of other districts which have already made moves to new curricula should provide the required information to select an appropriate, Common Core aligned, program.
The data contained in the January 2012 Math Monitoring Report can be augmented with the additional required elements as they become available.  Waiting until November would delay implementation a full year.  It would extend the use of Everyday Math one more year, and would also cause us to spend resources developing and implementing a transition plan with Everyday Math as its basis.
Please consider an immediate start to the review.
Thank you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Great Question

During the follow up discussion regarding the Proposed Technology Plan 2012-2015, Board of Education member Jennifer Dayton posed a very searching and profound question: What can technology do to bring about an extraordinary rise in student achievement?
The response was minimal, but this question should form the basis for any investment in technology going forward. 
Are we investing for the sake of making some investment?  Or to have the "best stuff" in our schools?  The bottom line is results.  Are we raising student achievement significantly with our spending?
Great question.


At the recent Board of Education meeting, there was a discussion regarding homework policy, as part of the larger discussion around the monitoring report for Effective Learning Environment (E040).  The topic had been raised before, seemingly in the context of ensuring the consistency of the application of the homework policy across the district.  See specifically pages 6-7 and pages 12-13.

Pages 12-13 deal with the “Prior Years” management issue around homework, specifically, "the District will be examining research on homework and its relationship to student achievement."  The monitoring report references a book (Visible Learning) which brings together 800 studies around student achievement.  I reproduce the summary contained in the monitoring report below.  I have not read the book (it is not in the Greenwich Library collection).

The recommendation is that the district form a committee of teachers, parents and administrators to explore the homework issue.  From my reading, the research indicates support for less/no homework at the elementary school level, based on the lack of a significant impact on achievement. 

One comment from a Board member was that parents use homework as a means to understand what is going on.  This may indicate a lack of communication, or a lack of informative reports cards (there's a surprise), or both.

Personal note: looking back, I don't recall having any significant or regular homework until seventh grade.  I still remember the excitement when we got our first homework assignments.  Boy, did that end quickly. 

This begs the question, in relation to learning such things as basic math facts: If the current direction is that math facts are to be practiced at home, what would happen if there was no more homework?  Would that drilling return to the schools/teachers?  Would it fall by the side of the road completely?  Perhaps ending the ridiculous Everyday Math homework and letting parents drill their kids in the math facts in the time saved would be an effective answer (and one which appears to be supported by the research - see the seventh bullet point regarding "Effects are highest....").  But what about the parents who are working, or don't get the importance?  Will the achievement gap widen?  Tough questions.

Highlights of Research on Homework

Educational researcher John Hattie spent fifteen years reviewing thousands of studies involving millions of students and teachers on the impact of different influences on student achievement. His findings are summarized in the book Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Effect sizes standardize changes in student achievement allowing us to compare the impact of different factors (an effect size of 1.0 equals one standard deviation). The typical effect size across all the studies Hattie reviewed is d =.40, and the author proposes that this is the level where a strategy or practice begins to noticeably impact student achievement. In Hattie’s words, "The effect size of 0.40 sets a level where the effects of innovation enhance achievement in such a way that we can notice real-world differences and this should be the benchmark of such real-world change."(p. 17) The list below presents highlights from Hattie’s meta-analyses on homework.

• The correlation between time spent on homework and achievement is near zero for elementary students.

• Greater effects for older students vs. younger students.

• Effects of homework are twice as large for high school students as for middle school students. Effects are twice as large for middle school students as for elementary school students.

• Greater effects for high ability students vs. low ability students.

• Higher effects when material was not complex or if it was novel.

• Homework involving higher level conceptual thinking and project based was the least effective.

• Effects are highest when homework involves rote learning, practice, or rehearsal of subject matter.

• Research favored short, frequent homework that was closely monitored by teachers.

• Homework does not help students develop time management skills.

• Direct parental instructional involvement in homework showed a negative relationship with achievement, while parental support for independent homework showed a positive relationship.

• Hattie meta-analyses describes a "Zone of Desired Effects" which ranges from
d= 0.40 to 1.2. The effect for homework is d= 0.29

• Negative impacts of homework:
 Can undermine motivation

 Can cause students to internalize incorrect routines and strategies

 Can reinforce less effective study habits

Hattie, J.A.C. (2009).  Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York:

Monday, May 21, 2012

We are Getting There

I was hoping the school district would have posted the video of the Thursday evening Working Session by now, so that I could provide exact quotes.  Since this is good news though, I don’t want to wait any longer, and will rely on my notes to present the sense of the discussion.

The Board of Education has instructed the administration to scope out the work required to conduct a mathematics curriculum review!
Chairman Leslie Moriarty introduced the topic (as a result of an added item on the agenda) by saying she was interested in obtaining a Board consensus on how to move forward with the transition to Common Core Standards for math.
Peter von Braun immediately answered that we should be doing a “full bore” review.
Barbara O’Neill indicated that it would be “short sighted” to focus on Common Core, and that we should be doing a full review.
Jennifer Dayton said that given the date of the last review, a full review was needed. 
Chairman Moriarty pointed out that there were competing priorities, and that the budget process needed to be considered.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning Stacey Gross said that the current plan was to work this summer to start the transition by developing augmented materials and enabling professional learning, with a focus on the elementary level.  She continued that the next Math Monitoring Report was due in November.  She indicated that the curriculum review schedule was “very flexible” and that currently the Science implementation was on track for 2012-13 (first year), the Social Studies review was being expanded, and the English/Language Arts review (scheduled to start next fall I believe) could push out.
Dr. Lulow indicated that his interest in this topic (i.e., he asked for the agenda item) was a result of wanting to know where the new Math Coordinator (to be hired) should focus.  He asked if we should expedite the math curriculum review, and if so, he would take that into account in the coordinator selection.
Peter Sherr asked whether the introduction of the new testing for the Common Core Standards in 2014-15 school year meant that we should be implementing changes in the math curriculum in the 2013-14 school year.  He went on to refer to a Wall Street Journal article questioning whether the Common Core Standards were really an improvement.  In any case, he indicated that he supported a “deeper, sooner, more complete” review.
Jennifer Dayton said that we could move forward with a curriculum review, irrespective of the timing of the implementation, and that she was supportive of a start to the review sooner, picking up on Peter Sherr’s phrase.
Adriana Ospina, referring back to the presentation made by the current Math Coordinator at the 4 April 2012 Work Session, indicated that she supported option #3, which would entail a full curriculum review.  She specifically mentioned Everyday Math (and not in a complementary way).
Seeing that at least five of the Board members were in favor of accelerating the review, Chairman Moriarty summarized by saying this would not be a small change, and then asked the administration to give an indication of the scope of work for a curriculum review. 
Barbara O’Neill mentioned that the first step would be the Math Monitoring Report, scheduled for November (see my comments below).  Peter Sherr asked if we could get outside help for the review, to which Dr. Lulow responded that it was not unprecedented.
I may have missed some of the nuances being expressed (and apologies for misquotes), but the general feeling appeared to me that the review should be a full review and that it should start sooner rather than later.  The tone I sensed was concern that the proposals (options #1 or #2 from the previous Work Session) for transitioning to the Common Core using Everyday Math as a foundation was not going to produce the improvements in performance desired. 
Barbara O’Neill’s comment that the first step would be the Math Monitoring Report (“MMR”) is correct, given the policy for such reviews (the  policy is currently under revision).  But let’s look at the timing that this would impose.  If the MMR is published and accepted in November 2012, starting the review, the 12-18 months stipulated as a maximum time frame would put the first possible implementation in September 2014, at the beginning of the school year leading up to the first testing under the Common Core Standards. A twelve month review would allow 9-10 months for preparation and professional learning, but the start would still be September 2014.  This path would also require spending resources (time and money) on planning and executing a transition program, as it would be unwise to put all the marbles into a big bang implementation.
If the Board decides that this is not a feasible path, the immediate start of a review (as soon as the new Math Coordinator is named or hired) would allow a 12 month (preferably shorter) review, with the remaining months (June-August 2013) for professional learning prior to a September 2013 implementation.  This implementation could be limited to grades 2-5, giving all grades almost two years of the new curriculum prior to the first test in May 2015.
Needless to say, I am a huge supporter of an expedited review.  While it would be too late to provide a better curriculum for our daughter, the benefit to younger students needs to considered.  Even one year less of Everyday Math would be a tremendous improvement!