Thursday, February 11, 2021

Why Are So Many American Students Not Proficient in Math?

I consider every word of this excerpt to be 100% true:

One might expect the jump from high school to college mathematics to be a natural progression, or a small step up in difficulty or expectations. But over time it has actually become a chasm, and that chasm continues to grow.

More students are taking advanced coursework – algebra II or higher – in high school. But studying the material doesn’t mean that a student has truly learned it. As a result, a student can pass a course which should be a college preparatory course, such as algebra II, yet fail a standardized placement exam, or not score high enough on SAT/ACT tests to be deemed “college ready.”

Most high school teachers hold their students to a different set of expectations than college faculty do. In many cases, the policies are set by the school district, so high school teachers are simply upholding rules that the community and parents have pushed for. This can include allowing students to submit late work, retest on assessments they performed poorly on and use a calculator for most assignments.

The rationale is well intentioned; high school students are young learners, and may need multiple opportunities to master a concept.

Multiple opportunities to pass means more students pass. But this generous assessment strategy has unintended consequences on student motivation and accountability. The effect is that students can earn a passing grade but not retain or master the material in a meaningful way. This is how a student can receive a B in algebra II, for example, but land in a developmental class when they enter college.

We don't do anyone any favors by lowering standards.


three of clubs said...

Someone once described permitting retests as creating an environment where the first test after the obligatory chapter review (and attendant prying questions) was reconnaissance for the actual test which would be offered at the student's convenience.

Soon after hearing this assessment, I stopped retesting and giving formal reviews. "If I could teach you all this material in one period, I would have done it already. I'm always happy to answer any specific questions you may have."

My administration backed me up, but I must confess students and parents never really understood this position, so I eventually relented on the review sessions which as far as I could tell made no difference, and switched to a comprehensive final, promising that I would replace any lower test/quiz grade with the grade on the final.

That policy appeased virtually everyone and still, I don't think it made a material difference in learning outcomes.

orangemath said...

Yes, you do favors by lowering standards. You and the people to whom you report can claim higher graduation rates and improved GPAs, most people are far happier. Even colleges are, because they can admit anyone they want. Low standards and high grades benefit society. As long as med schools are good, we'll do OK.

Low standards are highly rational. Remember posterity doesn't provide you much value.

lgm said...

False advertising. The courses are offered as Regent's Level here, with defined objectives, but since the Court ruled that only an 'adequate' education has to be offered, the BoE is happy with offering less than the complete course. "The bigotry of low expectations' for the student, reduced work load for the classroom teacher while the taxpayer is stuck paying for specialists to 'co-teach' or 'intervene'.

Ellen K said...

Rigor has been reduced because school administrators can't explain why some demographic groups do better in math and science than others. Instead of addressing issues like attendance, behavior, reinforcement of academic standards, high level and AP courses have been diluted to allow for higher grades. I saw it with the AP courses I taught. It was part of the reason I retired early.

lgm said...

In my neck of the woods, a pass is not enough to go on to the next math course in the college prep sequence. A student must achieve an 85 on the Regent's Exam. If not, student goes to a nonRegents course after Regent's Geo and attempts to gap fill, then proceeds to Regent's Alg 2 as a senior. R. A1 and GEo are the only subjects where academic competency is required to be demonstrated before continuing on. The SUNY flagship is using ALEKS for placement now. Handy as a student can choose to gap fill over the summers on his own rather than during the semester, if needed.

I have to agree with one of the links -- Kindergartners being presented with review. Unfortunately K-8 is all about remediating 1s. Everyone else is given review of core basic and never moved on to the other grade level objectives. The gifted do manage to learn enough from the test prep books to move on, everyone one else hires a tutor. There is no point in attending if public school is only for the academic needs of the neglected and ENL.