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New Math Standards in Texas, Grades 3-8

Texas just changed the math standards for grades 3-8 beginning next school year. Major changes mean a series of unfortunate events for teachers and students.

Students in 4th grade will be expected to know a large quantity of what 6th graders are currently expected to know. There’s a lot of new stuff added for everyone as well. Teachers and students have serious obstacles to face here. 

First, how is a student freshly out of 3rd grade going to perform at 6th grade level by testing time? (High school algebra students where I teach are often struggling with the concept of y=mx+b at test time.) I wonder if our legislators have considered that a child might not be cognitively able to perform math at this level. Or if a teacher can actually cram three years of math into one year — never mind if a child’s mind can hold it. 

Second, regarding incoming 3rd graders, how is an 8 or 9 year old going to not only cover this new gap with any retention, but how is this child going to cover all of the additional standards the legislator has added as well? The standards teachers must get them to by 4th grade will be insurmountable, it seems to me. 

Third, the STAAR test will have to be re-made. The test will be new. A teacher has no idea what will be on the test or what it will look like, but must prepare their students to do well on it. How can a teacher effectively manage this feat in addition to the new standards?

Fourth, a teacher is evaluated on his or her students’ performance on this one test through VAM methods (EVAAS in our district). What kind of accuracy can be expected when the test has never been given, the students being tested have never before taken a standardized test, and any projections that COULD be made are on a completely different test with completely different standards? Not that VAM evaluations are logical, reliable, or accurate in the first place. 

Fifth, this evaluation will affect the state’s accountability as well as federal NCLB accountability. 

The logistics of this are confounding. 

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff are currently working on a plan for assessing grades 3–8 mathematics in spring 2015. The plan will involve a special operational administration that incorporates the revised mathematics TEKS as indicated in the recently posted STAAR assessed curriculum documents and blueprints available on the STAAR Mathematics Resources webpage at: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/math/. 
For the spring 2015 STAAR grades 3–8 mathematics test administrations, students will receive a raw score (XX questions correct out of XX total questions) prior to the end of the school year based on their performance on the assessments. Then data from the spring administrations will be used to establish new performance standards for STAAR mathematics in summer 2015. 

                                                                                                                                             — TEA Release

 

 

Furthermore, it involves some mathematical acrobatics. 

The new performance standards will be retroactively applied to the spring 2015 administrations with new reports and data files sent to school districts in August 2015. 
Because performance standards for STAAR grades 3–8 mathematics will not be set until after the spring 2015 administration, Student Success Initiative (SSI) retest opportunities for STAAR grades 5 and 8 mathematics will not be offered in May and June of 2015. For the 2014–2015 school year, districts will use other relevant academic information to make promotion/retention decisions for mathematics. 

                                                                                                                                             — TEA Release, emphasis added

 

To all math teachers, I say good luck. To all math teachers, grades 3-8 — I wish you more than luck. I wish you a miracle.

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Teaching

Teaching Argumentative (Persuasive) Writing

This year, I’ve really struggled with bringing my students’ writing up to the level required to pass the EOC exam for our state. The gaps in their ability to write academically partially stem from the fact that the previous state exam required a personal narrative. Thus teachers focused diligently on developing their ability to write a personal narrative, littered with the word “I.” The trouble is tri-fold. 1) Personal Narratives are not used often in college classes. 2) The word “I” is rarely used in academic papers (though it is currently becoming more common). 3) Academic writing has taken a back-seat in their education thus far and their ability to coherently write about an academic topic — either in an expository or argumentative capacity — has suffered.        

Therefore, I’ve had to laboriously facilitate them in developing their organization, paragraph structures, word choice, logic, syntax and topicality. “Revise and Resubmit” has been this year’s mantra. Only through writing and re-writing a paper have they been able to weed out their individual issues and understand what an academic tone requires. I paired this with one-on-one counseling with my students every time they turned in an essay.This approach has helped me to address both my advanced writers and my remedial writers and see substantial progress.

This week, I introduced them to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This concept was easily understood by most of my students. It paired well with discussing our dystopian novel study underway and we were able to use it to analyze our character’s actions. I then explained how it can be used in every argumentative paper they write, helping them create ethos. For my more advanced students, learning other philosophies like Mill’s Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative will give them an edge in writing argumentative papers. As a former competitive LD debater and Parli debater in college, using a criterion against which to weigh our values and decisions forms a stronger argument rooted in centuries of philosophy.

I strongly believe in the value debate offers our students. Debate and theatre are the original PBL classrooms. It’s a cryin’ shame debate no longer suffices in Texas for students’ required speech credit. (Seriously Texas, WTF?) Next year, I plan on incorporating more debate in my curriculum and teaching these strategies earlier in the year. I will require them to use these strategies in their argumentative papers.

As long as the state puts such a strong emphasis on argumentative writing — and I agree that it’s important — students must be exposed to philosophy, not just rhetoric, to be truly educated in persuasion. 

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