The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Schools Respond to Gas Prices

If you haven't heard, there are a handful of school districts that have implemented a four-day school week in order to cut transportation costs. I think it's an elegant solution, reducing your bus transportation budget by almost 20%. Some districts have begun bringing in students 4 days a week and making Friday a half-day workday for faculty.

In Texas, many districts hold summer school only Monday through Thursday, and this last summer some of the holdouts switched to the short week.

Recently, USA Today reported on some college campuses that are discouraging students from bringing cars to school. Some school were trying to train their students to be eco-friendly, other campuses were trying to avoid building parking garages, but some of their solutions are creative.
This fall, Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., is offering freshmen free mountain bikes, helmets and locks in exchange for a promise not to bring a car to campus. The $300-per-student cost is funded by private donations.
Other schools are running bike repair shops or bake-sharing programs. (Texas A&M tried a "Borrow-A-Bike program when I was on campus, but had to strike the program under liability concerns. I am curious how the new programs at these other campuses are different.)


Sunday, August 3, 2008

California considers prizes for test scores

Evidently Governor Arnold doesn't read my blog. California is considering "non-monetary incentives" to students for achievement (or improvement) on state tests. You can read about the proposal.

This could go wrong so many ways. I went to school with kids who would have tanked the test to make it easier to score an "improvement" incentive later on. But the problem is, studies show this won't help math scores.

I have a theory why this is true. Most of our kids can read, and most of them are fluent in English. Our reading tests don't require a lot of outside knowledge (they ask, "What is the main idea in paragraph 3?" or "The underlined work in paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to which of the following?"). The math test, however, requires a lot of outside information (they ask, "Which of these forms a Pythagorean Triple?" or "Which measure of central tendency will be affected to the most?").

In short, a student who buckles down on the day of the reading test can boost his or her score a few points. (I was in 8th grade before I realized my score went up if I actually read the entire passage!) There is no equivalent on the math test. Buckling down on the day of the math test won't do much. There are so many pieces to the math puzzle that a student has to collect over several years. Reading the entire math problem does me no good if I cannot remember the difference between mean and mode. I can recheck my answers, but if I write my proportion upside-down, I will never get the right answer.


Kids these days

Interesting USA TODAY story summarizes an annual study measuring trends in teenagers -- from reading ability to church attendance and even suicide rates. In short, the study shows only slight changes over the last 28 years. Is that what you would have predicted?


Math Gender Gap Gone?

Okay, it is back to school time. I've already spent two days working with the math department, and our staff retreat is tomorrow, so we can all expect more activity on this blog.

To start with, here is a recent news article from Chicago: Girls match boys on tests in math: study. The researchers acquired their results by looking at test scores from state "No Child Left Behind" exams as well as SAT scores. They found no disparity between male and female performance levels.

I find is suspect that they did not create their own test and sample to gather data. States have a lot of pressure to generate NCLB results. And the goal is to get every student to the "acceptable" level. That means resources are moved around so that everyone will reach the same level of achievement. In short, I hypothesize that the parity is due to the school's test prep for that particular test, and may not translate into complete math parity. To support my argument, I offer this quote from the article:

They also looked for gender discrepancies at the highest levels of mathematical ability, checking to see if more boys fell into the top percentiles of scores than girls.

"While we did find more boys than girls above the 99th percentile at a 2-to-1 ratio, still, 33 percent of those kids who are above the 99th percentile are girls," she said.

The study acknowledges a disparity in SAT scores (the one test in the study where students are NOT prepped to meet identical achievement levels), but claims that is a "sampling artifact" because fewer males take the test, so the male sample must be smarter. (Yeah, so what do the writing tests show?!) The study also points out that, mysteriously, women are still heavily underrepresented in math and science professions.