Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There are high schools with as low as 5 percent of the students proficient in math

Fact Check: High Schools Struggling with Math
October 10, 2011
by Keegan Kyle
Voice of San Diego

Statement: "There are high schools with as low as 5 percent of the students proficient in math," San Diego Unified school board member John Lee Evans said Sept. 27 at a board meeting.

Determination: True

Analysis: Students at San Diego Unified schools have been scoring better and better on state tests in recent years. Scores have steadily risen across most grades, ranking the district above California's other major urban districts.

It's a positive trend, but school officials say there's still plenty of room for improvement. While discussing test scores at a recent school board meeting, Evans highlighted one such area.

"At the same time that we have those high (district-wide) figures," he said, "I've heard in the last day or two that there are high schools with as low as 5 percent of the students proficient in math."

Evans asked district staff at the meeting whether that number was accurate. Ron Rode, who oversees an office that monitors test scores, stepped up to microphone.

"We do have some in the single digits and this has been a long-standing issue where we see higher performance at the elementary schools and then it drops as grade level increases, precipitously at high school unfortunately," Rode said.
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We checked the numbers, too, and they back up Evans' description.

Arroyo Paseo Charter High School in City Heights finished dead last with 1.8 percent of students demonstrating proficiency in math — able to complete basic geometric and algebraic tasks like calculating surface area and solving linear equations. The highest scoring school, Scripps Ranch High, had 57 percent of students meeting state standards.

Overall, about one in four San Diego Unified high schools came close to Evans' mark, with the percent of students meeting state standards falling in single digits. Here's the score for each school:

Though scores were dismal in some cases, they used to be much worse overall. The percentage of high school students meeting state standards in math nearly doubled in the last five years. Less than one out of every three students met or exceeded state standards in math last year.

At the school board meeting, Rode also pointed to a statewide trend that extends to San Diego. As students get older, they tend to score worse and worse on state test scores. And those low marks from high schools bring down the district's overall average.

The reasons for the precipitous decline aren't clear, but researchers suggest that school instruction gradually grows further apart from the concepts examined in state tests. By high school, the gap is wide enough that few students meet state standards.

Test results show a social difference as well, Rode said in an interview. At younger ages, students seem more eager to do well on tests. As they grow older, students become wiser of the lack of accountability tied to state tests, which don't affect grades, and then don't take testing as seriously. High school juniors may also focus on preparing for college placement exams rather than state tests, Rode said.

Because some high schools in San Diego Unified came close to Evans' description of math scores last year, we've rated his statement True...

1 comment:

Tim said...

So, this does not surprise me whatsoever. There is a lack of understanding about math at the highest levels of education. While elementary school teachers do a good job at teaching what they're required to teach, they actually do not teach understanding of the topics that are required for success in algebra and beyond (which is where the big drop-of is)

Forget the underperforming high schools for a second and look at "successful" districts. Their test scores will look similar. High elementary math scores, with a sharp dropoff once students hit middle school. The best districts have a shallower drop off, but it's still there.

The reason for this is that we're stuck teaching numbers, not concepts. Students do not understand the difference between addition and multiplication, nor do they understand concepts such as fractions and division. Elementary school teachers don't fully understand these concepts either. They are able to use them, and perform the right calculations, but since that's where the standard ends in those grades, that's what they teach.

Of course, that's not necessarily their fault. Most elementary school teachers are reading specialists (and for good reason, because ultimately it's probably more important for a student to know how to read than to do math), but they then try to teach math using shortcuts, memorization and little tricks that help kids in elementary school, but leave them behind when it comes to higher level concepts.

Heck, listen to this jingle for dividing fractions that's commonly used:

"Ours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply."

The darn poem tells students that we shouldn't know why to do certain things, and so the concept that dividing and multiplying are inverses of each other are lost forever (when in reality, it's the one key lynchpin that makes it all easier).

Ultimately, if a student can do 16 * 25, they should be able to do something like (x + 3)(x - 5) because the concepts are the same, but since most teachers don't understand the reasoning behind the multiplication algorithm, they don't set up their students for algebraic success.