Blame the Teachers

Blame the teachers.  That’s the advice from PWCS for anyone with concerns about the Math program.

According to PWCS staff, teachers developed the assessments and have the authority and autonomy to select and use any materials they want in any order no matter what the recommended pacing might suggest.  Teachers can even disavow instructional materials entirely, if they so desire.  Lesson pacing is just a suggestion, not set in stone, and teachers can teach lessons in any order they want based on what they believe will best meet the needs of their diverse community of students.  Our teachers teach the curriculum, not a textbook.

Any concerns or questions anyone has with what’s being taught, the manner in which it’s being taught, the order in which it’s being taught, what’s being tested, or how responses are being graded needs to bring those concerns to the attention of their child’s teacher.  Central office, and the Math Department, exist solely to create learning environments to enhance teacher professional development and student learning.

Got that teachers?  According to PWCS, when it comes to Math, it’s all on you.

If any teachers are feeling like they just got thrown under the bus by PWCS, watch out for the tires, they sting.

After several months delay, staff finally gave a presentation on Math instruction in PWCS.  The focus of the presentation was on K – 5 instruction, which has engendered some degree of controversy these past few years.

Because this topic is near and dear to my heart and the hearts of the other contributors to the PWC Education Reform Blog, I’ve broken the discussion into several parts. This is part (1).

Whoopie!  Our Math SOL Scores are Better Than the State Average and That’s a Huge Accomplishment

I’ve heard this line several times now, and every time it makes my blood boil.  Not because it’s untrue but because it only tells part of the story and continues the bad habit PWCS has of celebrating mediocrity.

Every year I gather test score data for PWCS and neighboring school division and publish it on this blog.  You can find that information at the Test Scores page in the banner at the top of this blog or by clicking here.

At the elementary level, overall and in all racial or ethnic groups, our Math SOL pass rates generally exceed state averages.  They have for years.  That same trend was unchanged  with the revised Math SOL exams last Spring.  So yes, we are in the top half of the state in the percentage of students we pass on the elementary Math SOL exams.

Now for the other part, the part that no one in PWCS will discuss.

At the elementary level, overall and in all racial or ethnic groups, our Math SOL pass rates generally are below pass rates in Fairfax and Loudoun and are frequently below Stafford and Fauquier.  The only area school divisions’ whose pass rates we generally exceed are Manassas and Manassas Park.  That’s overall AND in all racial or ethnic groups.  PWCS has been consistently below Fairfax and Loudoun for years, but dropped below Fauquier and Stafford in the past couple of years.  The Spring 2012 exams changed things a bit as our elementary schools were still generally below Fairfax, Loudoun, and Stafford but generally above Manassas, Manassas Park, and Fauquier.  So we’re in the top half of the state and pretty much the bottom half of Northern Virginia.

Then there are our high school level SOL pass rates and SAT scores.

For Algebra I, PWCS generally exceeds state averages and Manassas.  Our Algebra 1 pass rates overall and in most ethnic and racial groups, are generally lower than Fairfax, Loudoun, Stafford, Fauquier, and Manassas Park.  Manassas Park did pass a lower percentage of students than PWCS in the 2012 Algebra 1 exam.

For Geometry and Algebra II, PWCS is generally below state averages, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Stafford.  Fauquier and Manassas Park tend to exceed our pass rates in Geometry but do worse than us in Algebra II.  Manassas passes fewer students than PWCS on both the Geometry and Algebra II exams.  That’s overall AND in all racial or ethnic groups.  These trends continued into 2012.

On the SAT for Math, PWCS students score below the US and VA averages, below Fairfax and Loudoun, and are about equal to Stafford.  Our Math SAT scores are only above Manassas and Manassas Park.  I couldn’t find Fauquier’s SAT scores.  The percentage of students tested doesn’t appear to be the reason for our lower scores.

Here’s a hint.  If we want to improve our high school Math SOL and SAT scores, we have to start by providing our students with a solid foundation in arithmetic – which comes from elementary school.  As many of our middle and high school teachers will tell you, we aren’t doing that right now and we haven’t been for a long time.  There’s only so much catch-up our middle and high school teachers can be expected to do.  It doesn’t matter if a child is or is not ready for Algebra – if he / she can not add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions easily without a calculator, they won’t be able to do the work necessary to be successful in Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II.

That’s one of the major reasons I think calculators should be prohibited on the Math SOLs, at least through Algebra II. Calculators don’t help you with fractions, but we’re openly pushing for our students to become dependent on calculators for simple arithmetic. In doing so, we are undermining their ability to succeed at higher level mathematics. Prohibiting calculators on the SOL will force our teachers to teach arithmetic to our children. That won’t happen as long as calculators are allowed on the exams and actually creates an incentive for teachers to disregard arithmetic.

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