Summer Help in Math

** Do your children need outside help in math?
Have them take a free placement test
to see which skills are missing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Administrative plan for math is to fix the math program later

By Laurie H. Rogers

According to The Spokesman-Review, Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said in October 2013 that math outcomes in Spokane are "average" and that's why the school district is focusing on repairing its English/language arts program.

The impression given in the article was that math instruction in Spokane is in an OK place, not great but not terrible, and that attention needs to be paid first to ELA.

Such an impression, however, isn't what college
 remedial rates indicate to be true. It isn't reflected in most high school graduates, nor in most students in any grade prior. It isn't what I have told the superintendent; it isn't what she has repeatedly acknowledged to me. It isn't what she told me that the rest of the Spokane community has said to her.  Even board directors appear to have gotten a clue: On Dec. 4, 2013, director Rocky Treppiedi called the district's math program "a disgrace." And it is. 

I asked Dr. Redinger about her choice of the word "average" to describe math outcomes in Spokane, and she wrote that she chose the word because district scores are "at the state average in mathematics."

If I didn't know better, I might accept that. However, I do know better.

The school district is not "average" in student outcomes for math -- unless the definition of "average" has come to mean "abysmal." One can't depend on Washington State test scores to accurately reflect student knowledge in math. The state tests are weak; the cut scores (i.e. the passing scores) are ridiculously low and are set after students take the tests; and the scoring has been subjective and often incoherent. In addition, the vast majority of districts in this state also have weak outcomes in math.

Being "average" in a state that struggles in math does not denote success in math. Surely a
$262,000-per-year superintendent knows that.

The only thing that has EVER mattered in math is what the students know and can do. On that score, Spokane Public Schools has a serious problem. Dr. Redinger has assured me that she knows that and will fix it. Yet in public, she frequently provides a completely different picture.

Dr. Redinger also assured me in December that she plans to get rid of
Connected Mathematics and Investigations in Number, Data, and Space -- two of the weakest K-8 math programs in America. In March 2014, I noted to her and to Chief Academic Officer Steven Gering that some students are still working out of those programs. Dr. Gering assured me that the district's math program will be different in a few years. Neither administrator expressed concern about students still laboring under two of the weakest programs in the country. There was no apparent sense of urgency in Dr. Gering's reply, no questioning, no effort to learn more. It's difficult to explain the leadership's seemingly casual attitude toward suffering children.

In a few years, will the promised new program be better? Will it be sufficient? Who knows? In the meantime, the district has adopted an interim program called EngageNY. This program is unproved, still evolving, online, and is based on the controversial Common Core. It does not come with textbooks for parents to see and use. 

These two administrators - who together pull down about $400,000 per year - have explained that they know EngageNY will be good because they "feel" that it will be good. Yes, both said "feel." Neither had student outcomes or solid research to offer. People laugh when I tell them what the administrators said, like it can't be true. Someone even broke into an off-key rendition of the 1970s song "Feelings." (And who needs that?)

Does either administrator even know what a good math program looks like? Dr. Redinger should know. Her resume boasts several positions in curriculum development. In December 2013, I asked her if she thinks Saxon Math is a good program. She said she doesn't know. Saxon Math has been around since 1981 and is the program of choice for many homeschoolers and private programs. Early last year, I surveyed all of my contacts - on my email list and on social media - to ask for their favorite K-8 math program. The majority picked Saxon Math, far and away over the closest competitor, Singapore Math. I compiled their picks and comments and gave that to Dr. Redinger early last year. She said she would pass it on to the school board.

In December 2013, I reminded her of this survey. She replied that other people don't like Saxon. (But many of those who don't like Saxon Math are education administrators who love reform math and who have helped to completely screw up their district's math program.)

If administrators can't recognize a good math program when they see one, how will they ever eventually choose one? Meanwhile, this district continues to refuse to adopt any of the good programs now available, even as the students continue to struggle.

Below are some indicators of actual academic outcomes in math in Spokane -- not provided by anyone in the K-12 system, but by employees of Spokane Community Colleges in response to my requests. You'll see how many SCC and SFCC freshmen test into remedial math, which level of math they test into, and their general rate of success.

When you're told that the math problem is just you, your income, your child or grandchild, your child's school, or your neighborhood in the city, don't believe it. And when you're told that outcomes are "average" and that it's OK for your school district to take another year or two to get its math program together, don't accept that for your family.

Remedial Rates in Mathematics
at Spokane Falls Community College  (SFCC)
and Spokane Community College (SCC):

** Academic years 2004-2005 through 2008-2009
Remediation rates in mathematics for Recent High School Graduates
Students from Spokane-area high schools only

** Academic Years 2005-06 through 2009-10, with a Five-Year Average
Remediation Rates in mathematics for Recent High-School Graduates
Students from Spokane-area high schools only.

** Academic Years 2007-2008 through 2009-2010
Success rates of Recent High School Graduates Placed Into Developmental Math Courses
(Remedial Math) -- Spokane-area High Schools Only

** Academic Years 2008-2009 through 2012-2013
Remediation Rates in mathematics for Recent High School Graduates
Students from Spokane District High Schools

** Academic Years 2008-09 through 2012-2013
Success rates of Recent High School Graduates Placed into Developmental Math Courses
(Remedial Math) - Students from Spokane District High Schools
** SFCC College Spark grant
Results for the first half of this project, broken down by Spokane high school.
The students tested were Algebra II students, and so theoretically should have been proficient in Algebra I and perhaps also Geometry.
Although College Spark is not about college readiness, the results about where these students ultimately placed is informative.

I'm including a
link to an email from an SFCC administrator, who explains this project and provides additional clarification. It's important to recognize that the project was NOT about testing students for college readiness. The College Spark grant was designed to determine curricular alignment between SPS and SFCC.
The project is ongoing and scheduled to run through the fall of 2014, at which point analysis and conclusions likely will be available. See this link for a flowchart of the SFCC math classes and their levels of content, so you can see the content Spokane students appear to be missing.

An aside: In December 2013, I asked Superintendent Shelley Redinger about the results of the College Spark study. She said she had "not seen them."

Please stay tuned. More to follow.

Please note: This information is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (March 2014). "Administrative plan for math is to fix the math program later." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

No comments: