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CC Algebra – Fewer Strong Scores – Part I

July 6, 2015 am31 10:53 am

When New York State changes exams, schools hold their collective breaths, trying to figure them out. We are not sure about content, about context, about difficulty, and most of all, we are not sure about scores.

Why New York State has been changing exams so frequently over the last 15 years (disruptive innovation) should be the subject of another post.

But my bread and butter exam has been Course I. Then Math A. Then Math A (adjusted). Then Integrated Algebra. Now Common Core Algebra.

What you do with these exams depends on who you are, and where you are. At Columbus I taught a course that took kids who had already failed Course I multiple times. Me and Bill Gerold taught it. And we figured out ways to get a kid who tried hard to break that 65. It was kind of amazing. And given our success, and it was success keeping the school off the SINI list or whatever it was called then for a year, the administration refused to offer the course again. At my school today I teach a fairly old-fashioned algebra course, with fairly heavy emphasis on mathematical understanding, challenging problems, lots of fractions, rich discussion of process, but not much emphasis on real-world connections. And then I build in the supplements for the exam. Obviously this means different supplements every time they change the exam.

It works fine. Kids get scores in the 80s or 90s. Once I had a kid with 100, but that was not my fault. The kids, the school, the parents, they all care about the scores. More than they should. Since my kids already know some math (they can all add fractions) when they arrive, and they all can take a standardized test (they get into the school by passing a test), the pressure is not on passing, but on getting scores that look good. And on getting the average for all of their regents exams to be at least 90, which qualifies them for an “honors designation” on their diplomas. It’s a sticker, and I give out nicer stickers, some more colorful, some scratch and sniff, some glittery, but the kids want this sticker in particular.

So the new Algebra regents (common core) hits last June, 2014, and I was on sabbatical. But I heard from around the state, from the AMTNYS listserve, and from talking to people, and from my school, that scores for strong kids were down 5 – 10 points.

So we set about scrambling to see why the scores were down, and what we could do to bring them back up. I went to the AMTNYS conference in Syracuse in October. I talked to people. Teachers, professors. Consensus was that those who used the “modules” ran out of time, those who taught the old curriculum watched the grades fall a full 10 points, or 10+ even, and those who used a reduced sampling from the “modules” did best. The modules are NY State supplied materials that probably would require a 300 day school year to teach completely (we have 180. There are 260 weekdays in a year).

There was my answer – adopt portions of modules. Of course I did nothing of the sort. I took an already rich function unit, and expanded it. I added a couple of stats topics, taught differently than I had in the past, emphasizing equally what the stuff means, and how to calculate it. I ended the year with a week and a half of intensive test prep. And my students did well. But the scores were 5 – 10 points lower than I would have expected. Mid 70s through mid 80s. Something was wrong.

I’ll give you important background in the next post, some technical information in the 3rd post, and tell you what went wrong in the fourth and final post in this series.

Teaser: NY State lowered top scores intentionally.

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