**[Note from Laurie Rogers: This is part 2 of a series of articles on Celesta, a grade-11 student in Spokane, WA. I interviewed her for a June 4 episode of “Cut to the Chase,” a local radio show hosted by Rob Chase for the ACN Network. Part 1 of the series described Celesta as lacking multiple basic skills in mathematics. Part 3 will discuss community efforts to help students like Celesta ... and the district’s response to those efforts.]**

Celesta is an 11th grader in Spokane Public Schools who carried a 3.6 GPA, got As in all of her math classes, passed all of her math tests and who did so well she was placed last fall into honors pre-calculus. Unfortunately, she and many of her pre-calculus classmates lack proficiency in basic math skills (including long division, multiplication facts, the number line, and fractions).

Over a few days, I called Spokane’s middle and elementary schools to find out how they would help students like Celesta. I didn’t do anything silly like go undercover or assume a pseudonym; I just called them all as a concerned community member, offered my first name and gave them the scenario noted above. Then I asked them, “How do (I, you, we) help these students?”

You won’t believe what I was told.

Most district employees expressed concern, but it often came out in accusatory, unhelpful ways. Most had nothing to offer students like Celesta. There usually was a long pause on the other end of the line after I described her situation.

**Several expressed doubt about the truth of the scenario.**

**“How could that be?” they asked.**

**“I would just be appalled if that were true,” a high school counselor said.**

I don’t understand their shock and surprise. The counselor who said he would be appalled should already be appalled that his school had a pass rate on the 2010 state math test of less than 30%. Students needed just 56.9% to pass that basic-skills test, and more than 70% of the 10th graders at his school couldn’t do it. The district’s overall pass rate for 10th grade math was just 38.9%. Four of the six middle schools had pass rates of less than 50% on the 8th-grade math test; two were at less than 40%.

Either these counselors and administrators already know of the low pass rates and of the district’s policy of socially promoting students regardless of what they've learned … or they don’t know. Why on Earth wouldn't they know? It’s their job to know.

So I took a deep breath and assured them calmly that the girl is real, her story is true, and I was wondering what the district had in place to help students like her.

**Nearly all recommended that she be tested for learning disabilities.**

I haven’t tested Celesta for a learning disability. I have only tested her for proficiency in basic math skills, and she tested into 5th-grade math. It does seem odd that she would be in honors pre-calculus, with a 3.6 GPA, having passed all of her tests and with straight As in math – if a learning disability had kept her from learning basic math skills.

**A middle-school counselor said something must have “slipped" Celesta's mind before she hit the pre-calculus class.**I’ve heard that wild assumption before. Other administrators claim it about other students, also without proof, and in 2010, an administrator at Spokane Falls Community College said the math problem at SFCC isn’t because students didn’t learn enough math in K-12 – it was because they’d just forgotten it.

According to Celesta, at least half of her class has the same problem. Her pre-calculus teacher must continually stop teaching pre-calculus, she said, so he can teach basic skills. He showed them long division. He showed them the number line so they could subtract a negative. I asked the district employees: Did ALL of these honors students just forget? This observation was met with more silence.

**A middle school principal talked about how poverty is such an issue for the students.**This is the district’s go-to answer for student outcomes. In February, a district employee stated at one of my community forums that if we fixed the poverty problem, we would fix the math problem. But I had said nothing to anyone about Celesta’s home life. I asked Celesta for her reaction, and she was offended.

“I’m not that poor,” she said. “I’ve always had everything I needed. For someone to tell me I’m failing because I’m poor, that’s a little ridiculous.”

While there are strong correlations between family income and student achievement, poverty isn’t the problem with math. We could give every low-income family a million dollars and this district’s math program still wouldn’t have enough math in it. I noted to Celesta that lower-income families have fewer resources to pay for tutoring and outside help, and she expressed frustration.

“I don’t see why we need tutoring if the school is doing their job,” she said. “Why do I need to go to Sylvan to learn what [the district] should be teaching me? Why do I need extra help? Why aren’t they just teaching [it to me] in the first place?”

Why indeed? Why do district counselors and school administrators not have a firm grasp of the depth of the district’s deficiencies in math? “How can that be?” I kept hearing. Do they not see the low pass rates? Do they not see students struggle and fail, yet get passed through – and even be placed into advanced math classes? Do they not know about the district’s high remedial rates and dropout rates? Do they not see the district-wide anxiety over math, and the district-wide dearth of procedural skill? They should because I see it, and I don’t get paid taxpayer money to see it.

**A high school counselor then decided Celesta must have been cheating to get her 3.6 GPA if she now has issues in pre-calculus.**Startled, I said, “Pardon me?” He said, “Yeah, she must have cheated or lied. Or, maybe,” he added helpfully, “she’s had a traumatic brain injury.”

I asked Celesta for her reaction.

“It makes me feel sad that they’d jump to that conclusion,” she said. “I know I’m a good student. I know I work hard. I know that I’m smart and that it’s really hard for me right now that I’m struggling. And for someone to tell me that I have a learning disability or my brain has been damaged because I don’t know math because I wasn’t taught? It’s pretty hurtful. It’s not my fault. I have to go to public school every day. That’s what I have to do. It’s not my choice to be there, and it’s not my choice to do the lesson plan. I’m learning what they’re teaching me. If I’m not learning it … when I am a very attentive student, and I’m there, and I’m trying … Is it my fault?”

Celesta said there never was any indication that she or her classmates were struggling, that they had learning issues, or that there were gaps in skills. This year has been a shock. It isn’t that pre-calculus is so hard, she said. It’s just become clear to her that she and many classmates are missing basic math skills that they need to be successful in that class. She fought hard and wound up with a final grade of C.

“Even if I study really hard, and I go in and get help, and I get extra help from my old math teacher,” she said, “I just seem to always hit a 60% on all my tests, no matter how confident I feel about them. … Before this year, everything was fine. I would get my tests back and maybe I’d get a 3 out of a four, and that still isn’t very OK with me. I always strive to do the best. Usually, I’d go in and try and retake, but in pre-calculus we cannot retake tests. That’s what really kills me. I can’t try again. … I just have to accept that I’m failing.”

Well, I don’t accept it.

I’ve found that it takes about two months, an hour a day, five days a week, to properly tutor a student through one grade level in K-8 math. Celesta is missing about six years of basic skills. She’s leaving for the summer, and I’ll try to help her by email. It will be a challenge. She’s 17, and it’s the summer, and she’s visiting family. We plan to connect when she comes back in the fall. It’s daunting, but I’m willing to fight for her if she’s willing to fight for herself.

Math was always a strong suit for Celesta, one of her favorite classes. Now, she isn’t interested in taking any more math classes. But if she doesn’t, her dream of earning a business degree is over.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is

Rogers, L. (June 2011). "District blames Celesta for gaps in math skills - (part 2)." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was published June 9, 2011 on educationnews.org at: http://www.educationnews.org/blogs/157780.html

## 16 comments:

Have you thought about suing the school district?? I can tell you that the DOE is always fearful of lawsuits and maybe if parents start suing the school for the lack of education, they will take notice

Blaming everything but the fact that teachers are spending more time teaching kids what to think about social issues than they are teaching children knowledge, ie, math, English, Science, History (true history, not the politically correct history) is always their excuse. Teachers are now "the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage." Their job is to inculcate in children the wanted progressive belief system. In the end, children are being dumbed down. It's been going on for over 20 years now. And yet parents still don't revolt because parents are looking for a babysitter, not an educator.

What is your evaluation / opinion of the commercial service, Mathnasium?

There is one located in Spokane ...

http://www.mathnasium.com/spokane

My daughter just finished her first year at EWU. For an English paper she wrote about the math education problem in Washington.

She never had to memorize her math facts and was never taught long-division. Luckily, she had a spectacular 8th grade math teacher and two good math teachers in high school (along with one horrible precalculus teacher and an algebra teacher who didn't teach much at all--my daughter had to teach the students around her and she was only able to do that because her 8th grade teacher taught algebra even though it was a pre-algebra class).

While working on her English paper, my daughter e-mailed Greta Boremann who is the Director of Mathematics in Teaching and Learning at OSPI. She asked why elementary schools are not ensuring students know the basics in math before they leave elementary school. She explained that she never learned the basics which made math a very difficult subject for her. Ms. Boremann acknowledged that the old standards did not require memorization of math facts but the new standards do require memorization. Knowing this problem, you would think teachers/districts/OPSI would have figured out a way to give students who missed out on the basics a way to catch up in middle and high schools.

Of course, it is too late for all students who are in middle school and above unless their current teachers teach them the basics. Also, if Spokane is like the Olympia School District, there are NO plans to change the curriculum to match the new math standards nor is there any indication that teachers will start using more direct-instruction in math. In fact, it is just the opposite, teachers are being taught to use LESS direct-instruction. So . . . even though there are new standards, it doesn't matter because the districts are insisting on continuing to teach to the OLD standards.

Dear Anonymous (7:16 p.m.):

Would your daughter agree to talk with me about her math experiences? You or she can contact me at wlroge@comcast.net

Laurie Rogers

Spokane

I've said this before, and I'm sure that I will say it again: Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for continuing your work in this area! I love reading your blog. It really helps me realize that there are other people who still care about this, too.

HI Laurie,

In fall of 2006, when the Seattle schools were still using TERC, I tutored my neighbor, a public school fifth grade girl who was struggling in math. I discovered in no time that this child had no fact fluency, and that this was making it very difficult (impossible, really) for her to learn the important topics of fifth grade math (Of course, she had not yet mastered the important topics of fourth grade math, either.)

I told the principal at another public school about this case, and he suggested that the girl was learning disabled. I did not think this was a good explanation.

My work with this girl eventually led, a few months later, to my working in one of the fifth grade classroom at this particular principal's school, testing a fact fluency software.

Before initial registration of a kid into the program, I did a quick oral assessment in order to decide what level they should start at in the computer program.

This is what my oral assessment revealed: Only one kid in the class was had full fact fluency. Most of the kids did not have automaticity for any facts beyond the times-two table. Some of the kids did not even have fluency for the two's table. Most of the kids were fluent in strategies to find answers to simple questions, but their response times were inordinately long, showing that they were using considerable working memory resources to deducing answers to simple arithmetic problems.

I guess this principal would have explained the lack of fact fluency in his school as showing that nearly every child in his school was learning disabled! I did not confront the principal with my results, until I went to him to show him the evidence that the fact fluency program was effective. The principal showed little interest in my results.

I was outraged. That told me that he was satisfied with mediocrity, and did not care about academics.

It so happens that the kids at this school perform fairly well on state assessments, but I am pretty sure that private tutoring is a big factor. Parents at this public school are pretty affluent, and value the social skills curriculum that the school staff emphasizes and takes pride in.

Hi Laurie,

In fall of 2006, when the Seattle schools were still using TERC, I tutored my neighbor, a public school fifth grade girl who was struggling in math. I discovered in no time that this child had no fact fluency, and that this was making it very difficult (impossible, really) for her to learn the important topics of fifth grade math (Of course, she had not yet mastered the important topics of fourth grade math, either.)

I told the principal at another public school about this case, and he suggested that the girl was learning disabled. I did not think this was a good explanation.

My work with this girl eventually led, a few months later, to my working in one of the fifth grade classrooms at this particular principal's school, testing a fact fluency software.

Before initial registration of a kid into the program, I did a quick oral assessment in order to decide what level they should start at in the computer program.

This is what my oral assessment revealed: Only one kid in the class was had full fact fluency. Most of the kids did not have automaticity for any facts beyond the times-two table. Some of the kids did not even have fluency for the two's table. Most of the kids were fluent in strategies to find answers to simple questions, but their response times were inordinately long, showing that they were using considerable working memory resources to deducing answers to simple arithmetic problems.

I guess this principal would have explained the lack of fact fluency in his school as showing that nearly every child in his school was learning disabled!

I did not confront the principal with my results, until I went to him to show him the evidence that the fact fluency program was effective. The principal showed little interest in my results.

I was outraged. This response told me that this principal was satisfied with mediocrity, and did not care about academics.

(It so happens that, on state assessments, the kids at this school perform nearly as well as kids at peer schools, but I am pretty sure that private tutoring is a big factor. Parents at this public school are pretty affluent, and value the social skills curriculum that the school staff emphasizes and takes pride in, and those that can afford make up for weak academics with private tutoring.)

Hey - I am definitely glad to find this. Good job!

Thanks. I repost it on my Facebook.

Bob Peters, CA

While many people listen to facts, others respond to true stories like this one. Maybe it will begin to sink in. Heavens knows how many of us have tried to tell them. They just don't get it.

I just can't believe they would say she was brain damaged! Sheesh--They need to get into another line of work!

Really.

Laurie,

In this blogpost, you mention that the only way to fix the problem is to create a time machine and teach the basic skills that were not taught. I am a teacher in the school district, and educator at the university. I have three children in the system. One day, my daughter took the day off and attended one my classes. She just finished four years in the Odyssey program (gifted ed) and she happens to be a gifted math student. In my classroom, I teach the state standards using the district materials using effective teaching strategies. I have a balanced program and use of techniques. For the past four years, my daughter has been taught in the manner you are advocating. She spent a 30 minute lesson in math on mental math multiplication of double digit by double digit. At the end of the lesson, she commented on how she learned something new in my class, from my students who were three years younger. She was impressed with their ability to think, discuss and understand mathematics. She said she left with a deeper understanding of the properties of humbers. It was not direct instruction in the sense that many think of, such as reading mastery, but direct in that I asked students to think, asked questions aimed at assessing their level of understanding and moved them in their thinking. I used mathematical models to illustrate the idea behind their thinking and I expected them to interact with one another. Your narrow view of math education frightens me. It is precisely your agenda that will move me to pull my children from public education. And by the way, my tenth grader just tested into higher level mathematics at the University, and she is just your normal, run of the mill kiddo who is a product of constructive teaching and learning. her teachers did not fail her. Spokane did not fail her, but your agenda will fail an entire district should you manage to force it through, God forbid.

Dear Allen Family:

Thank you for your comments.

I didn't actually say that the ONLY way to fix the problems is through a time machine. I was being whimsical, saying it would be a great way to do it. Celesta is staring at years of missing skills. How will she pick them up in the one year she has before she wants to go to college? It would be lovely if she could go back in time and do it the way it should have been done.

I'm glad the system worked for your children. I don't know all of the variables -- teachers, schools, supplementation, programs, etc. But the system does NOT work for the vast majority of children in this district, in other districts in Washington State, or in districts across the country.

I respect your perspective -- you're entitled to it. My view is informed by the hundreds of people with whom I communicate - advocates, researchers, mathematicians, parents, children, and teachers. I'm not alone or going out on a limb. Your comments deny the experience of tens of thousands of students in Spokane -- and millions of children in this country.

Solid, properly conducted research does not support the use of excessive constructivism. The results do not indicate its efficacy. And the children -- You might be surprised to know how little they seem to enjoy constant constructivism.

You're scared by my vision of how things should be? I wonder why you aren't scared by how things are now. An entire generation of graduates lacks skills in basic math. That doesn't frighten or worry you? It doesn't cause you to at least question the process that brought them there? This country has not been awash in traditional instruction since 1989 -- it has been awash in reform math and excessive constructivism.

Spokane Public Schools has failed an entire generation of students. The proof is all around you. Please open your eyes and see. The children -- this community -- the parents -- are desperate.

I won't apologize for fighting for the students. I'm sad that so many people in this school district continue to deny their reality.

I think you should use more images on your blog, but besides that, it is really great. Cheers.

When I was growing up in the 80's, it was a well-known fact that the kids who were performing the best in school had their parents on their team. They were helping them to move beyond just getting the work done. It was about learning how to think. While I totally agree with EVERYTHING Mrs Rogers has written here, I think nothing in American schools will amount to anything until the family becomes what it ought to be. As things are, the parents of the kids aren't doing anything, the administrators aren't doing anything, the teachers aren't doing anything...no one cares enough about it to DO anything. The selfishness that manifests itself in many forms here in America (visualize someone staring at a phone and you'll be halfway there to getting my point) have done the damage. Teachers's unions have destroyed accountability for them; administrators are there for the money; and as someone said earlier on part 1's comments, the parents are just using the "school" as a daycare center for the kids of all ages. Selfishness that oozes out of every crack in this high-tech American culture...that's a spiritual war that must be waged. Not just a math agenda that needs to be changed.

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