Canyon between high school and college expectations

(Photo by OliBac)

UMSL, Mizzou and the other UM-System campuses require students to have a 24 composite on the ACT or equivalent SAT scores to be accepted as freshmen. (They can be accepted with lower scores with high grades and class rank. See rubric.)

Unfortunately, our high schools are not graduating students at that level. The average ACT composite score in Missouri is 21.6 It's much lower at some of our metro school districts.

Clayton School District provides a good picture since they have all (or almost all at 92.48%) seniors take the ACT. In 2011, they had a composite score of 25.8, well above the state average and above the state university cut-off. However, the UM campus cut-off of 24 is a minimum, not a mean, so even many Clayton students wouldn't test high enough to be accepted.

Ferguson-Florissant had 68.75% of its seniors take the ACT in 2011 with a mean composite score of only 18.4. In order to be accepted to Mizzou or UMSL with that ACT score, a student also has to be in the top 14% of their class and have a 3.5 gpa in their core classes (no padding!).

Riverview Gardens seniors don't have much of a chance. In 2011, 58.74% of seniors took the ACT with a dismal composite score of 16.1. If their ACT score is below a 17, no matter what their class rank or grades in their core classes, they will not be admitted to Mizzou or UMSL. Being accepted to a 4-year state university will be challenging for most students from Riverview Gardens, nevermind the costs. There is a reason this district is currently unaccredited.

Every child should graduate from high school with the option of going to college, whether they choose to or not. The difference in expectations between high school graduation and college entrance is a canyon rather than a ravine for too many of our kids.

Districts Need Higher Math Expectations for All

Cross-posted to Clayton Richmond Heights Patch

School districts throughout Missouri are reevaluating their math programs because the state is planning on adopting the new Common Core standards. While some people may balk at the idea of nationalized standards, politicians need to put their petty power disputes aside and look at what is best for kids. Massachusetts said it would not join the coalition unless the standards were at least as rigorous as its own, driving the standards up rather than the more typical downward spiral we tend to expect. While the Missouri MAP tests are challenging, the standards were poorly written. Adopting the Common Core standards is a positive step.

Clayton School District's math curriculum committee has made some substantial recommendations in its cyclical review of the math program. Other districts will be looking at their math programs whether they are up for review or not because of the upcoming changes in standards.

Clayton recommended changes:
•eliminating the integrated math sequence at the high school
•requiring the majority of 8th graders to take a full algebra course in 8th grade instead of the “algebra light” course currently taught
•recommending new textbooks for the high school and middle school (elementary will be reviewed this coming year)
•beefing up content mastery and fluency at the elementary
•requiring Algebra I level knowledge for all elementary teachers, Algebra II level knowledge for middle school math teachers

While the board seemed pleased with the amount of work put into the 621-page document, the members were not completely satisfied. They wanted more.

“Will this document guide us to ensure our teachers and curriculum teach a variety of ways so all of our children can excel?" she [Susan Bradley-Buse] asked the committee. “I don’t see that in here.” (Travis Pringle, “Math Curriculum Update Draws Questions on Textbooks, Teaching Styles”Clayton-RH Patch 29 April 2011)

I want to see math educators broaden their view. Instead of focusing on test scores and teacher recommendations to select a few students into the honors sequence, they need to emphasize looking at practices that can help as many students as possible excel at a high level.

Districts often provide support structures for struggling and exceptional students, but what about making those available for a wider base? For example, Clayton currently offers extra support courses for students in regular math classes so that they can be successful. This can help many students avoid taking less-intensive courses but gives them the extra help needed. I think this is a wonderful concept that should be more broadly applied. Possibilities could include a summer class to help middle school students move from regular math to honors, tutoring sessions taught by college and high school students, support groups for math anxiety, etc.

Finland consistently ranks at or near the top on the international test PISA. All students take the same course together with struggling student provided extra help.

A tactic used in virtually every lesson is the provision of an additional teacher who helps those who struggle in a particular subject. But the pupils are all kept in the same classroom, regardless of their ability in that particular subject. (Tom Bridge, “Why do Finland’s Schools Get the Best Results?” BBC 7 Apr 2010)

U.S. students are not the same as those in Finland, but teachers here can learn from their strategies for helping all students.

Moving algebra to the 8th grade for the majority of students is a good first step, which I would like to see replicated across the metropolitan area, but I think we need to go further. Students should be encouraged, not discouraged to challenge themselves even if it takes some extra work.

I’m not advocating eliminating honors courses but emphasizing to students that practice and hard work is more important than innate ability in achieving at a high level in math. If districts start ability grouping at a young age, they have a responsibility to counter that unspoken message by providing creative and productive extra support all students could use to excel in math.

Math standards—Lowest Common Denominator?

Photo by ansik

Should Missouri math standards be written as the minimum that students should learn, which would be too low for most students, or should they be written for most students with expectations of extra help for struggling students? Currently, they are written to be the minimum, but a group of math professors believes they should be raised.

Statement in the revised draft as of 18 May 09:

Although the core content, learning goals, and performance indicators specified in this document are intended for ALL students, many Missouri students will be able to move through this content more quickly and will need more mathematics than is outlined here. For that reason, we urge local educational agencies to develop and implement policies and programs serving all students beginning in elementary school, including those who are ready for early advancement and need more mathematics than the material described in this document. As essential support for raising Missouri’s performance in mathematics, specification of core content, learning goals, and performance indicators for fourth-year high school mathematics courses is under development.

math learning goals 051809 - sh - 2

are published, schools will base their curricular decision on these low standards and will already be committed to these curricular decisions." rel="external">Response to Missouri State Board of Education 29 May 09 by Ian Aberbach, professor and director of undergraduate studies, mathematics dept., University of Missouri—Columbia:

If the current standards aimed no higher than to 20th percentile students (ALL) are published, schools will base their curricular decision on these low standards and will already be committed to these curricular decisions.

Yes, the state plans on adding an addendum with supplemental standards for college-bound students, but we should not have a two-tiered approach. All students should graduate from high school prepared for college, whether they choose to continue on or not. The two-tiered approach is not in alignment with Obama’s goals nor is it the best decision to keep Missouri competitive either nationally or internationally.

(Hat tip to Lisa Jones for the links)

Nixon needs to act on standards, now!

Missouri is one of only four states to not have the governor sign on to work together to create a set of voluntary national standards. Texas, Alaska and South Carolina are the other three--conservative governors with presidential aspirations is the common denominator among them.

Why didn’t Gov. Jay Nixon sign on for Missouri? presumably because we are currently without a commissioner. However, since this was an association of governors, Nixon has the authority, the responsibility to lead the state. He doesn’t have to wait until a new commissioner is hired.

The president of Missouri's board of education said he, too, expected his members to revisit the issue soon."I think we'll seriously consider it over the next several months," said state board President Russell Thompson. "Once we're assured Missouri can have higher standards." (Missouri Balks, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

But the state doesn’t have that much time. Panels are working on suggested standards set to come out in July.

Later, a separate national "validation" panel, made of up of experts nominated by the states, will review the proposal. (46 States, Washington Post)

If we wait too long, we won’t have a chance to review the proposal. We have to make that deadline.

Some (such as Caitlin Hartsell for Show-Me Institute) say we don’t need to join the common standards movement because Missouri already has high standards.

And, as it is, fewer than half of Missouri’s students are meeting or exceeding the MAP standards Adopting lower national standards instead would only provide a misleading inflation of achievement metrics.

But this is mixing up the challenge level of the MAP, which is high, with the Missouri standards, which are not. In fact the math standards are under review, which is being extended because of disagreement with the draft standards.

Members of prominent university mathematics departments in Missouri are calling for an evaluation of state standards and expectations in K-12 math curriculum. (Math Professors, Columbia Missourian)

The math wars are nothing new, but the rigor of the Mo. standards is not high, is confusing and contains jargon.

For example, for fourth grade, the proposed standard is broken into Core Concept, Learning Goal and Performance Indicator. (Ed. to add--I chose this somewhat randomly. I’m familiar with 4th grade, and fractions are difficult and important. I did not pick and choose.)

Grade 4, Core Concept B--Develop understanding of decimals, including the connections between fractions and decimals.2) Understand relationships among whole numbers, commonly used fractions, and decimals.
  • Model fractions (halves, fifths fourths, eighths, and tenths) on a 10 x 10 grid representing one unit in order to convert fractions to decimals.
  • Rename whole numbers as fractions with different denominators (e.g., 5 = 5/1, 3 = 6/2, 1 = 7/7), with or without models.
  • Relate fractions with denominators of tenths and hundredths to decimals of equivalent values.
  • Identify equivalent fractions and decimals (less than one, equivalent to one, and greater than one), with and without models, including locations on a number line.
  • Use a variety of methods to compare and order decimals and fractions.

Compare this to a similar California standard:

Number Sense
1.0 Students understand the place value of whole numbers and decimals to two decimal places and how whole numbers and decimals relate to simple fractions. Students use the concepts of negative numbers:
1.1 Read and write whole numbers in the millions.
1.2 Order and compare whole numbers and decimals to two decimal places.
1.3 Round whole numbers through the millions to the nearest ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, or hundred thousand.
1.4 Decide when a rounded solution is called for and explain why such a solution may be appropriate.
1.5 Explain different interpretations of fractions, for example, parts of a whole, parts of a set, and division of whole numbers by whole numbers; explain equivalents of fractions (see Standard 4.0).
1.6 Write tenths and hundredths in decimal and fraction notations and know the fraction and decimal equivalents for halves and fourths (e.g., 1⁄2 = 0.5 or .50; 7⁄4 = 1 3⁄4 = 1.75).
1.7 Write the fraction represented by a drawing of parts of a figure; represent a given fraction by using drawings; and relate a fraction to a simple decimal on a number line.


As a state with a difficult assessment, I think we’ll benefit from a common standard. We won’t look bad when compared to states with easy assessments when they upgrade their tests. We won’t need to “dumb down” ours; instead, the rest of the country will need to catch up to our assessments. In fact, our standards need to catch up to our assessments.

Agreeing to work to create the common standards is not the same as agreeing to follow and change the MAP to assess by the common standards. This first step is a no-brainer. I’ll wait until the actual standards come out to make a decision on the next, but with our transient population that needs to meet international standards I applaud the effort and strongly encourage Gov. Nixon to sign on today. Otherwise, we’re likely to be looking at standards we did not have a role in helping to create.