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Sunday, November 29, 2009

The truth of Spokane's K-12 math program

Statement from Laurie Rogers:

Many people in Washington State aren't aware of just how unprepared our students are in mathematics, at nearly every grade, as they leave elementary school, as they enter high school, and when they graduate - IF they graduate. Statements keep coming at us from education administrators that supposedly point to improved scores, high rankings, increased enrollment in advanced classes, and a strong showing on college placement classes. This consistent misrepresentation of the situation has a dramatic impact on how they see the problem and what they think should be done.
On Nov. 25, in a guest editorial for the Spokesman-Review, for example, Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn said of Washington: "We are one of just 24 states that have high school exit exams, which places us far ahead of more than half the nation." Also, "We consistently finish near the top on national tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the SAT and the ACT."
But these statements are a reworking of the hard truth, as you'll see below.
Local administrators also work hard to give a rosy impression of achievement. In Spokane's Nov. 25 meeting of the high school math curriculum adoption committee, I was told NAEP scores went up "two grades," and I was shown scatter plots that supposedly indicate improved student achievement.

At the Dec. 3 meeting of the curriculum adoption committee, I gave members the following information:


Quotations from the August 2009 issue of Spokane Public Schools “School Talk”

“Spokane Public Schools administrators have been working to establish and support a consistent mathematics program across the district…Classrooms have become places where students are highly engaged in the learning process.”
High school teacher: “I’m impressed by the students’ depth of understanding and their ability to communicate mathematical ideas.”
(But Shadle High School’s pass rate for the 2009 10th-grade math test was 47.4%.)
Elementary school teacher: “Kids are able to apply concepts seamlessly in different contexts. They are excited about math now.”
(But Ridgeview Elementary School’s pass rates were 62.1%, 56.3%, 58.2% and 43.5%).
Middle school teacher: “The curriculum does a good job of pushing kids to discover their own understanding. and it also allows time to practice skills and algorithms.”
(But Chase Middle School’s pass rates for the 2009 math WASL were 52.8% and 55.6%).
Elementary school teacher again: “We’re not throwing good practices away. We are melding them with the new things we know.”

Spokane students’ actual mathematical achievement paints a different picture from that perpetuated by the school district. Below is the truth of Spokane's (and Washington State's) K-12 mathematics program.


Real Data for Spokane Public Schools’ Student Achievement:

In Spring 2009, just 42.3 % of Spokane’s 10th graders passed the math portion of the WASL. The passing cut score is reportedly at about 54%. The content has been estimated as comparable to about a 7th-grade-level internationally.
Therefore, in Spring 2009, 57.7% of Spokane's 10th-grade students could not pass a math test that reportedly required just over 56% to pass and that is based on 7th- or 8th-grade content.

In order to test as “proficient” in mathematics on the 2009 Mathematics NAEP, 4th-grade students needed to reach just 249 on a scale of 500. Sadly, 57% of Washington’s 4th-grade students couldn’t do it. The average score for Washington’s 4th-graders was 242 out of 500.
In order to test as “proficient” in mathematics on the 2009 Mathematics NAEP, 8th-grade students needed to reach just 299 on a scale of 500. Sadly, 61% of Washington’s 8th-grade students couldn’t do it. The average score for Washington’s 8th-graders was 289 out of 500.

Spokane's Advanced Placement Classes

1992 2000 2008
Number of students 193 368 1093
Number of exams 271 636 2028
Number of course areas 13 15 27
Number of exams passed 198 517 1099
Percent passing 73% 81% 54%
Number of exams failed 73 121 929
Percent failing 27% 19% 46%
Average grade 3.18 3.45 2.72

The 2006 SAT.

In March 2007, former State Superintendent Terry Bergeson stated that for four years, Washington’s average SAT scores were the highest in the nation. But when I looked at SAT scores for 1995-2007, we were neither the highest nor the lowest. Finally, I realized what Dr. Bergeson was saying: Washington is at the bottom of the top half of the states with respect to how many of its students take the SAT.
In 2006, about 55% of Washington students took the SAT, while in other states, it was as few as 3% or as many as 100%. Counting just those states that had similar participation rates, Washington was ranked first. Therefore, Washington scored lower on the 2006 SAT than 24 other states – and Dr. Bergeson still claimed it was highest in the nation.

The 2009 SAT.
On Aug. 25, 2009, Washington State's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reported once again that “State SAT Scores Lead the Nation.” “For the seventh consecutive year,” an OSPI press release said, “Washington state SAT averages are the highest in the nation among states in which more than half of the eligible students took the tests … ”
It’s also important to note that the 2009 SAT scaled score was between 200 and 800. In mathematics, Washington students scored an average of 531 out of 800. Washington’s black students scored an average of 446 out of 800.

The ACT.
In August 2008, OSPI released ACT scores, saying that “for the fifth straight year,” Washington students scored “far above” the national average. Washington scored 23.1; the national average was 21.1.
However, the highest possible score on the ACT is 36. The benchmark score is 22. The benchmark is the “minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher” in college Algebra.
In 2009. Washington’s composite score in math slipped to 22.9 out of 36.

(Updated with actual figures June 11, 2010): The remedial rate at Spokane Community Colleges in 2008/2009 was 96.3%. The remedial rate at Spokane Falls Community College in 2008/2009 was 83.5%. Together, it was 87.1%. Of the students who took remedial classes that year, most tested into Elementary Algebra or lower. Of the students who took remedial classes in 2008/2009, nearly 47% failed those classes or withdrew early.

FTE (Full-Time Enrollment);
FTE in Spokane Public Schools has dropped by about 2,500 students since 2002/2003. This is a net figure, not a gross figure, therefore, incoming students likely have offset the total drop.
A Fall 2008 district survey of families who chose to leave the district showed that about 33% said the quality of the curriculum didn’t meet their expectations. Five of the top six schools having out-of-district transfers were high schools. Five of the district’s 7 middle schools were listed in the top 14. A whopping 79% of students who left went to: the Mead School District; online for virtual options; or to the West Valley School District. (Private schools were not included in the survey.)

Academically-related reasons chosen for leaving:
33%: Quality of curriculum does not match your expectations
26%: District class sizes too large
21%: Desired coursework is not offered in the district
19%: Student is not on schedule to graduate
12%: Student is enrolled in a full-time non-district on-line program
12%: Student has not met the 10th grade WASL standards
6%: There is not space for student in a particular district program
According to a recent Spokane Public Schools PowerPoint presentation ironically called “Becoming a World-Class System,” just “66% of students in SPS actually graduate from high school.”


And there you have it, folks. The truth of mathematics achievement in Spokane and Washington State. This is where public school administrators' almost complete dedication to reform math and constructivist teaching styles have brought us.
Don't let anyone tell you things are looking up relative to mathematics. In order for that to happen, administrators would have to modify their thinking.
In upcoming articles, I'll show you more evidence of the thinking in Spokane Public Schools relative to mathematics instruction.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted.

The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (December, 2009). "The truth of Spokane's K-12 math program." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:


Anonymous said...

What's happening in math in Spokane is not dissimilar to what is happening in my district (I am going to be "fearful" of potential reprisal and not identify that district). This is my 2nd year in 7th gr math, previous to this I had spent 7 years at a HS in a different district, and done some overseas teaching. At the middle schools in my district we use CMP2, at the elementary level it is Everyday math. The CMP2 curriculum is awful, and this is an administrative decision based on no verifiable indicators of success, but rather, when it was adopted (long before I arrived) the 'feeling' was that something different needed to be tried because students in the district were not being successful with the existing program. CMP2 has not proved successful (in fact, scores have been relatively stagnant for years, the district having moved from the first CMP to the more recent CMP2), and I won't elaborate on the myriad faults of the program - however the district has sold itself so hard on the program, that teachers are now in the position of "you need to make it work."

Aside from this fundamental problem of a broken math program, there really are some realities that need to be addressed. I will list and give my feelings on them.

1) Teachers at the elementary and middle school levels, by and large, are not as educated in math as they should be. I'm not talking about "education" classes in math, or knowing "how kids learn math"...I mean, they do not know the material well enough themselves. That is not to say they don't work extremely hard, because they do - my wife teaches elementary, and it is a grueling job, and she does great, as do most of her colleagues. I'm not slamming teachers. However, many elementary school teachers do not know a thing about algebra. They don't know how to groom kids for experiences that they will have further on, and they don't understand how to talk to kids in ways that stimulate mathematical understand the way, well, math people do. This is a problem. If we want to be realistic about how to improve math scores, we have to look at how kids start out learning math, and currently it’s pretty shaky. In middle school, when kids should be expanding their already present mathematical thinking, they are faced with classes led by teachers who are themselves muddling through curriculum (a curriculum, in the case of CMP2, that is already well-muddled) because it is not required to have an endorsement in mathematics to teach math through 8th grade. Again, this is really a problem that needs to be addressed. This can really only be addressed at an administrative level. As in, if you want to teach middle school math, you need to at least have a math endorsement, or pass a test that shows proficiency through algebra 2 - there are so many ideas and connections that a subject proficient teacher can fluidly slip into teaching that boosts kids understanding. There are so many questions that my students ask about the math, extended thinking ideas, that I have to consider the extent of math knowledge of most of my MS colleagues and wonder how many of them would be able to answer these questions. When we can't answer the relevant questions that our students have, what are we telling them about the real importance of math in their education? I know that my opinion here would piss off a fair number of middle school math teachers, but I’d be willing to lay serious money that it would be a step towards solving this “math” problem that we have. I don’t know if any studies have been done comparing the level of math education of teachers of various ages, but I’d bet we’re way behind Asian and European countries. I don’t see how that can’t at least be part of the problem. And it isn’t disparaging teachers who, in general, work extremely hard, care about their students, have good classroom management skills, etc.

Anonymous said...

2) I rarely hear the public address problems with public (just as I rarely hear teachers address problems with teachers, as I did above) – there is a lot of “cross-blame”, but not a whole lot of self-reflection.
When I taught high school in my previous district, I had the good fortune to work with a population of students that had been well-prepared for school since birth, practically. Their parents were wealthy and educated, and the students had a model upon which to reference that said “Education is important, it got us where we are today.” Their attitude towards school was positive, they were connected to the school, had great athletics programs, music programs, art programs. State math scores were somewhere around 78% passing. Compare that with my current population, many of whom do not come from educated or wealthy backgrounds, and whose parents are in large part “absent” when it comes to impressing upon students the importance of education. It is a small and rural community, not suburban. Many students do not see education as relevant because they don’t envision a world beyond their own small community. In my other school, I was writing my AP students recommendations to Princeton and Stanford, UW was a “safety” school for many of them. Where I am now, our graduation rates are abysmal, let alone students considering post-graduation education.
Teachers taking the rap for this situation is unfair, just as it is unfair for them to take the rap for junk curriculum. I work harder in this district than I ever had to with my privileged students, and the results are minimal. I teach accelerated classes (for students who are WASL proficient mostly, high Lvl 3s and 4s) and regular classes (50% Lvl 1). Last year, in my accelerated classes, my WASL scores increased from 6th grade an average of 20 points. However, this doesn’t help the school with AYP, because those kids were passing to begin with. In my regular classes, the change in pass rate was negligible. So I can accelerate kids who are already motivated, that much I’ve shown, and I’m very proud of my work, just as I was proud of helping kids learn AP Calc and AP Stat. But I can’t do a whole hell of a lot with students who just don’t give a damn. At some point, there are diminishing returns with increased effort on my part. I bust my ass trying to make this curriculum work, trying to make math “fun”, trying to help kids believe in themselves, trying to help kids understand the importance of effort – but I get very little help from the community, and by that I mean primarily parents. Some parents are great. Some parent, quite frankly, suck. Education is not solely the responsibility of teachers and school districts. I believe that all kids are good kids, and we have to continue to do everything we can to help those who are underprivileged in so many ways – but we have to be realistic about our capacity for success here. How many times have I had a parent conference with a kid over grades or behavior and walked away thinking “Man, all things considered, that kid is doing pretty well.” Parents often have very different pictures of their kids than teachers do, and more than a few have the attitude of “what are YOU going to do differently to help my kid” rather than “what can I do to help MY kid”. Education is a group effort, and when one part lets their side down, the WHOLE KID is affected.

So what’s happening here is:
Administration doesn’t select good math curriculum.
Teachers aren’t “math educated” enough.
Parents don’t take responsibility for their kids.

Blaming one or the other of these is not going to solve any problems. They all need to be addressed, and none of the parties are too good at addressing what their own deficiencies are.

Sharon Gerlach said...

I work in higher education, and you would not believe (well, you probably would) the number of students having to take remedial math courses because they scored too low on the ASSET or COMPASS test to be in college level mathematics. Many of them must start from Math 091, which is beginning algebra. If Spokane elementary and secondary schools would toss out the whole concept of "integrated math" we would probably see fewer students wasting two or three quarters on remedial math in the college system. The failure of the system begins in elementary school, is perpetuated through middle-grades and secondary schools, and finally must be resolved in higher education. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Yet it is 'higher education?' that is perpetuating failure in elementary school by supplying through teacher training programs (Math Science Partnerships) the very textbooks 'recommended' by the Department of Education which happen to fall far below the standards set by Singapore textbooks. This is not about equity, its about a massive failure to adequately educate all children and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the DOE.

Anonymous said...

CMP2 is a serious liability, especially when it is adopted with Everyday Math. None of the studies have validated CMP2's claims - it is especially devastating in support classrooms where Hispanic kids are expected to use graphing classrooms in order to do the lessons. In some classes, I visited either instruction was without calculators or the wrong calculators were being used. In Spokane's case, its probably nepotism that's responsible. CMP2 is the worst of the DOE's hs curriculum.

--David said...

Interesting reads, and you obviously have the time and dedication to research data and information that disproves the reports you find. My concern is that I see no solutions being offered here. It's easy to say "they're wrong," or "they're lying." The hard part is to come up with solutions. What you are doing is great, but add to it possible suggestions for improvement. HELP them fix the problem. Don't just complain about it.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Thank you for writing, David.
I appreciate the comment. I do try to give parents ideas for what to do to help improve the system, even if it is only to leave it and take their children to a school that supports direct instruction and solid curricula.
Each article can only be so long. It takes a while to articulate some of the ways in which the school district is deceitful to the parents, so this particular article is quite long as it is.
Here is a link to one of the articles in which I offered ideas to parents:
If you have other ideas, please pass them on.
Meanwhile, thanks again for writing. I'll keep your comment at the forefront of my thinking.

Anonymous said...

Solutions are many, for one, the DOE should/could update or remove its list of obscene/exemplary math programs...the second solution is adopt a textbook that comes with its own standards - like Singapore...finally matriculate students - don't promote them into lower tracks. Diplomas should specify what academic (math) levels students have achieved. This should not be the job of college instructors.

Anonymous said...

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