Thursday, August 29, 2013
MATH EXAM FAILURE AND MATH WORK GROUP
With Recommendations for the Math Semester Exam Work Group
August 29, 2013
First, very large percentages of students taking final examinations in Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 and Pre-calculus failed semester examinations over the past dozen years (30 to 62 percent in 2013, 64 percent in 2000).
Second, the 2010 K-12 Mathematics Work Group Report stated that, as a result of Dr. Weast’s reform effort (removing sorting and selecting practices based on assumptions about ability, in order to increase students’ access to higher-level mathematics), “some students were placed in courses for which they did not have adequate preparation. In addition, the achievement gap between African American and Hispanic students and their White and Asian American peers persisted despite some gains (MCPS 2010d, ii).” The MWG Report thus justified elimination of the math pathways and Honors math classes.
This paper examines whether the Starr-Durso “super-acceleration” hypothesis explains the semester exam failure rate, and reexamines the MWG Report in light of the conclusion on that hypothesis.
Failure is not attributable to accelerating students along the math pathway (skipping) or to placing students in Honors courses. Failure is correlated with on-level, regular students, particularly FARMS students. Students fail (in grade level, on-level courses) because they have not mastered prerequisite foundational concepts. Long-term, continuing, outsized exam failure rates indicate that summative assessments have no function, and a concomitant long-term failure of accountability on the part of MCPS and the Board of Education . The MWG was unaware of the exam failure rate and of the function of summative assessments; it found no use for data, with its conclusions assumed from the outset; and it wholly misconceived the roles of access and performance in subgroup disparity. The new one-size-fits-all math instruction regime cannot support lower-performing FARMS students by peer group composition and elevated teacher expectations when FARMS peer groups are composed through concentration of FARMS students in particular schools.
Recommendations for the Math Semester Exam Work Group
1. Use experts from the Office of Shared Accountability
a. Longitudinal data on accelerated student performance
b. Longitudinal data on summative exam success and subsequent successful course completion
c. Correlations between school FARMS rates and school average performance
2. Grapple with FARMS and on-level improvement
3. Take the past into account: read the 2000 and 2004 history and the MWG Report
4. Identify the MCPS departments responsible for math final exams
5. Publish a complete report, including extensive data
6. Consider that it is difficult to credit motive when process and product are so greatly flawed.
Ten Self-Protective Guidelines for parent-members conclude the paper.