Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Louisiana Math Standards in Our Middle Schools Are a Disaster!

Louisiana is attempting to teach Common Core math. The recent legislatively mandated revision resulted in a change of only 5% of the standards. But the middle school math standards are poorly designed and are failing our students in every way possible. Students in the middle school grades are performing dismally on the new Common Core math tests. In my opinion, the middle school math standards are not age appropriate. We are trying to teach high school algebra and geometry to students who are not mature enough and who have not learned enough basic math to prepare them to succeed.

Let’s make one thing clear. The new tests that were implemented over the last two years are the curriculum! Nothing else matters in teaching math in Louisiana but attempting to prepare students for the annual spring LEAP tests. Everything the math teacher does now is geared toward preparing students for the math tests. And most of this effort is failing!

Here are the results of the new math LEAP tests now being given to our students:
  • The tests are so difficult and impractical that the LDOE and their testing company have lowered the passing grade for the 8th grade test to only 27% for the school year 2015-16. A student needs to only get 27% of the questions right on the math test right to get a passing grade.
  • In the 2014-15 school year, the first year the new Common Core aligned tests were given, the cut score for passing was set at only 22%.
  • But even with these ridiculously low passing scores, 45% of our students failed the 8th grade math test in 2015 and 43% failed in 2016.
  • In 2016, my best estimate is that the average 8th grade math score statewide was only 33%. Considering that large portions of the tests are multiple choice, many students can do almost as well on these tests by just making random guesses.

The test results are telling us that at least half of our 8th grade students know almost nothing about the math we are attempting to teach. Yet the BESE policy which Superintendent White recommended allows such students to be promoted to high school.

Find out for yourself about the 8th grade math test by taking the practice test by clicking on this link to the LDOE testing website.

So how are our 8th graders doing on the NAEP math test which compares Louisiana to all other states? Unfortunately, on the 2015 NAEP (which was the most recent NAEP) our 8th grade math scores dropped in overall points and in the rankings of the states. Louisiana's 8th grade math NAEP scores now rank only above Alabama and the District of Columbia.

During my teaching career, I taught physics to 11th and 12th grade students. Physics was probably the most difficult course at our school because of the difficult concepts and the math used in Physics. But if I gave a test where half of my students scored below 33% (that never happened), I would have immediately questioned either my teaching or the structure of the test or both. I certainly would not have continued doing the same thing, hoping that my students would do better.

In the case of our middle school math, I have concluded that both the curriculum and the math tests are not age appropriate, nor are they going to prepare most of our students for future careers. But in this brave new world of our state-dictated, test driven curriculum, the powers that be refuse to be questioned. And they hide the hideous results of the state testing by using an obscure scale score system. This is a system where if a student gets zero questions right, he/she still gets a scale score of 650 out of a possible 850 points. A scale score of 725 is considered a passing score even if is equivalent to only 27% correct answers. This does not represent higher standards. These are insane standards. Such standards are driving education into the ditch.

Someone told me recently that the debate about Common Core in Louisiana is over with and that the Common Core advocates have won. If this is winning, I just don’t know how we can explain to parents that their children are learning almost nothing in their middle school math classes.

Parents need to demand that this failed curriculum be junked before it does too much more damage to our students.