U.S. math performance drops on NAEP. Georgia has higher standards. Do we have higher commitment?

The national drop in math performance seen today in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress – the first decline after 20 years of a steady climb — has triggered a lot of fretting and speculating on why scores faltered.

mathIn Georgia, eighth-graders held steady in math but fourth-graders scored four points lower than in 2013. Eighth-graders scored two points lower in reading, while fourth-grade scores remained the same from the last NAEP test in 2013. Fourth-grade reading was the only area where Georgia students exceeded the national average.

In a statement, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said, “These results underscore the importance of strengthening our students’ foundational skills in reading and math. At the state level, we’re committed to supporting districts in that work by producing better resources for teachers, fully vetting any new standards and initiatives, and providing greater flexibility so schools have room to innovate.”

Here are some examples of what’s being said this morning about the newly released NAEP data:

From Education Week’s Curriculum Matters blog:

William J. Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, noted that “curricular uncertainty”—likely a nod to the curriculum changes many districts are making to meet the Common Core State Standards—may be a factor in the drop in scores. “The majority of our schools are undergoing significant changes in how and what we teach our students,” he said. “It’s not unusual when you see lots of different things happening in classrooms to see a decline before you see improvement.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a media call about the results yesterday that this sort of “implementation dip” is fairly common. He pointed to Massachusetts, which saw a drop in test scores after raising standards two decades ago, before becoming a consistently high-achieving state. “This is the ultimate long-term play,” he said.

From former Montgomery County, Md., superintendent Joshua Star on Twitter:

Writing for the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog this morning, Carol Burris, head of the Network for Public Education, addresses both the drop in NAEP and the SAT:

Although NAEP and the SAT were not designed to align to the Common Core, they measure what the Common Core Standards were supposed to improve—the literacy and numeracy of our nation’s students. Considering the billions of dollars spent on these reforms, one would expect at least some payoff by now.

The fans of reforms are already beginning the spin. Some are blaming demographic changes (which conveniently ignores the drop in white student scores on 3 of the 4 tests), while others are attributing the stagnation to the economy (which was far worse in 2011). The very folks who gleefully hold public schools accountable based on scores, evade using them to evaluate their own pet policies. For those of us who had first row seats to the disruption and chaos they have caused, we have one simple message—no excuses

In his blog, education researcher Morgan Polikoff  cautions against blaming the slip on any one policy:

These results are quite disappointing and shouldn’t be sugar-coated. Especially in mathematics, where we’ve seen literally two decades of uninterrupted progress, it’s (frankly) shocking to see declines like this. We’ve become almost expectant of the slow-but-steady increase in NAEP scores, and this release should shake that complacency.

To a large extent, what actually caused these results (Common Core? Implementation? Teacher evaluation? Waivers? The economy? Opt-out? Something else?) is irrelevant in the court of public opinion. Perception is what matters. And the perception, fueled by charlatans and naifs, will be that Common Core is to blame. I wouldn’t be surprised if these results led to renewed repeal efforts for both the standards and the assessments in a number of states, even if there is, as yet, no evidence that these policies are harmful.

I would recommend this report for a deeper dive on what NAEP scores tell us.

I would like to add one topic to the mix: In Georgia and throughout the nation, we have changed our expectations for what our kids need to know and be able to do in mathematics.

Did we have parent buy-in first?

Even in my local Georgia system where dual Ph.D parents expect their kids prepared for the likes of Stanford and Duke, I hear complaints about the amount of homework and the stress on kids from juggling soccer, schoolwork and social life. My district is now an International Baccalaureate system, which has elevated the depth of instruction and the time required of students.

Many parents believe high school ought to be fun and teens should not have to study two or three hours a night and on weekends to earn top grades. (If you search out IB discussions online, you will find many students consider three hours of homework the norm.)

I go back to what a noted mathematician said to me: Math is hard. It is not fun. Mastery requires time and struggle even for those who love it and excel at math.

I recently talked to three college exchange students, two from Asia and one from Europe, about the differences they see in their American classmates in their math and science programs.

The trio said American students want college to be socially rewarding. American students are bright; they are just not willing to make school their only priority, they said. In essence, they felt while they see college as the path to a good life, American students see college as the good life.

Yes, we have to look at how we’re teaching math and who’s teaching it. When higher math standards were first being discussed in Georgia, many middle school math teachers, surveyed by the state DOE, said they were unprepared to teach to the higher standards.

The on-the-cheap training method DOE used at the time – train the trainer – was insufficient. (DOE was hampered by a Legislature that provided no real funding, which is why the agency focused on teaching a few teachers who were expected to go back to their districts and teach everyone else.)

Beyond teachers and curriculum, we have to consider whether we have helped parents understand their role in ushering their children into this new era of higher math standards. Also, we have to ask whether we’ve made the case to students themselves on why elevated math standards are vital and worth their time and commitment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

20 comments
NWGAMathScience
NWGAMathScience

Any word on school specific Milestones results. They were to be released "in October"...

anothercomment
anothercomment

Let's see why are our children having so many problems?

First smart women no longer have to teach as a career! They now are over 50% of all college graduates and more specifically the majority of primary care doctors, pediatricians and OB / GYN. They aren't like my Aunt Mary Jo who wanted to be a Doctor in 1942. She ended up in the convent, teaching biology in high school. Then getting her MS in Biology, followed by her Doctorate in the mid 70's at University of Florida in Marine Biology. She then taught at the College level. Became the college Biology Chair at a Catholic Colllege ( now University). She hAs also been a prep school president., Mother Superior, invited speaker at the Carter Center. Today she just would have been a Medical Doctor, not gone the teaching route.

In 5th grade my daughters teacher proclaimed at parent meet and greet that " she wasn't good at Math and didn't like Math." She should not be teaching elementary school ! In elementary school teachers should instill in their students a love for learning. She unfortunately, is typical of the " C" high school student that we have in Georgia teaching are students for $40k a year.

Then we have the residues of Kathy CoX and Math 1, 2, 3. This hop all over never learn anything completely was and is a complete failure. Even educated parents couldn't help their kids. No books For students.. Of course Kathy Cox moved to Montgomery County, MD with top notch schools that never did this crap for her son's. Not a single private or Catholic School did this crap.

Then let's look at what's on the news the disturbance in the classroom, by the kids who don't want to be there. The students who have parents who don't want to parent. That prevent anyone from learning. Then student are just given excessive homework to take home and do.

Some of us expect our children to muster through the hours worth of homework that should have been taught in class, if the learning time hadn't been stolen by the malcretent students. No failure policies give the trouble makers who deserve zero's either a minimum of 50 or a 70. Or years to complete the HW. Which how did they sudden get it done, whoops they bullied or mugged one of those A students who spent hours who did the actual work.

We need to go back and look at what worked in the 60's. We didn't have a lot of homework. We had multiple tracts, We had vo-tech. We had sorting in class based on ability. Number one we had respect for authority!!!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

In addition to the mathematics drop, 8th grade reading scores also dropped.  Fourth grade reading scores remained the same.

Students will not advance, or grow academically, if they are not placed and instructed on their precise instructional levels in math and reading, regardless of grade level demarcations.  There will always be a wide range of skills accrued by students in each grade level because students will always have differing abilities and, thus, will always grow at differing rates academically.


Until educational professionals fully understand and acknowledge this instructional truth - and address it effectively - reading and math scores will continue to drop, even though standards are raised, until every child is correctly placed and taught throughout his elementary through high school career.  This means dealing with wide variances of instructional need, now and always.

Until the educational system addresses this instructional truth, the educational system itself will continue to be the failure, not the students, nor the parents.

Lexi3
Lexi3

Demographic changes can explain the dip. As public schools strain to educate children who speak poor or no English less attention and resources are being devoted to traditional students. And, since many school systems are awash in children who don't speak or read English well, and many who have never been schooled, performance standards and measurements are bound to be depressed over time, making those comparisons meaningless.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

If higher commitment equals more financial support, then NO we do not have higher commitment!  In fact, h3ll, no!

class80olddog
class80olddog

We have higher standards, but we don't enforce any of them.  So I am not surprised that our math achievement has gone down.

BKendall
BKendall

The only way we will know if our standards are high is when GADOE shares the test standards (cut scores) with the public.

straker
straker

"raising standards"


There's a reason why schools have such a hard time finding good math teachers.


There's a reason why schools don't have any trouble finding good English, Geography and History teachers.


Math is hard for most people, and only a relatively few can be really good at it.


Raising standards accomplishes nothing.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@straker


It's easier for math and science majors to find other, better paying jobs, than it is for those who majored in English, Geography, and History.  Pay scales don't reflect that, however.

liberal4life
liberal4life

Maureen, 


Can you give some specific examples of changes you are referring to?


"In Georgia and throughout the nation, we have changed our expectations for what our kids need to know and be able to do in mathematics."

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@liberal4life We have raised the level of math that students have to complete and have set higher performance requirements to be deemed proficient. Most kids did not attain that level.

 In September, the state released results of the first round of the new state exams, the Georgia Milestones. In math, 60 percent of all Georgia students scored as beginning or developing learners.

At the time, State School Superintendent Richard Woods attributed the lackluster performance to our higher standards, saying, "Our previous assessment, the CRCT, set some of the lowest expectations for student proficiency in the nation, and that cannot continue.”

While this is happening across all grades, high school may be the greatest point of impact.

Coordinate algebra, first offered in 2012, replaced the Math I course typically taken by ninth-graders and some advanced eighth-graders. Analytic geometry, introduced in 2013, replaced the Math II course usually taken by 10th-graders and advanced ninth-graders.

liberal4life
liberal4life

@MaureenDowney,

There is nothing specific in your reply - or State Superintendent's comment.  Can you name any new mathematical idea that students are now expected to know and be able to do?  Maybe it is a bit easier to name math ideas that are expected in an earlier grades than they are used to be.

bu2
bu2

@MaureenDowney @liberal4life


But this is a national, not just a Georgia drop.  And they are talking about 4th and 8th grade, not HS.


I do know that my kids were asked to do things a lot earlier than I did.  But I don't know when that changed.

RolleTheorem
RolleTheorem

Most people believe mathematics is mysterious and difficult. "You do the math." they say. Most people, even the ones who believe there may be a way, also believe mathematics is a spectator sports; something you stand afar and watch. The fact is that you can't really get mathematics until it becomes an obsession.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@FirstDerivative 


It's rather childish to think one can be good at anything worth while without hard work. Over time hard work will trump innate ability, except, perhaps, at the far end of the distribution tail. Most people of average intelligence can master the math required to attain a baccalaureate degree in most programs, though it takes considerable labor.

Calliope_
Calliope_

Yes, learning is hard work and parents have always had their hands full making sure children have the right attitude and work habits. So why is society standing idly by—while a record number of children are brought up without a father in the home?

Not our business, you say? Nothing we can do about it, you say? Then how about our ongoing efforts to reduce teen tobacco use or to stamp out bullying? Are they, too, an inappropriate waste of time?



BKendall
BKendall

Watching NAEP presentation. Not happy.