Teaching & Learning
One Test Is Not Enough, Math Educators Say
School officials should not rely on scores on a single high-stakes test to make promotion, graduation, or tracking decisions, according to the nation's largest professional organization of mathematics educators.
Policymakers and educators should consider a variety of test results because the score on a single test is an unfair way to make such major decisions about students, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics said in a position statement released last month.
"The movement toward high-stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, accuracy, and educational equity," Lee V. Stiff, the president of the Reston, Va.-based group and a professor of mathematics education at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, said in a statement. "When test use is inappropriate, especially in making high-stakes decisions about a child's future, it undermines the quality of education and equality of opportunity."
The NCTM statement follows others from professional education groups and researchers concerned that states are placing too much weight on the results of a single measure. Last summer, the American Educational Research Association issued a statement that said flawed tests given without the instructional resources to prepare students for them "may cause serious harm." ("In Short," Aug. 2, 2000.)
In addition to being unfair to students, the NCTM adds, high-stakes tests can dramatically change what and how teachers teach. Because most tests assess specific skills and knowledge, the NCTM statement says, teachers tend "to narrow the curriculum and limit instructional approaches" in order to teach what will be tested.
The statement is online at www.nctm.org.
Credit for Shopping: Teachers who do enough of their holiday shopping online this year could be eligible to get a gift themselves: store credit toward the purchase of classroom supplies.
Through the new TeacherPoints program, educators can earn "points" whenever they use the Internet to buy products from more than 150 participating retailers. The program was launched earlier this year by the Learning Network, an Internet company in San Francisco that produces Web-based curricula and teaching tools.
"It sounds minimal to people outside of teaching, but it just grates on teachers that they have to spend as much as $500 or $600 of their own money" each year on school-related items, said Julia Koppich, an education consultant in San Francisco and a member of the TeacherPoints advisory board.
Ronald A. Wolk, the founding editor of Education Week, is also on the advisory panel.
Signing up for TeacherPoints is free. Under its agreement with retailers, Learning Network gets up to 10 percent of the cost of each purchase.
Still, not everyone thinks the venture is such a great idea. While helping pay for expenses that should be covered by teachers' employers, TeacherPoints also could add to the inequities between schools in rich and poor communities, said Amy Wilkins, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Education Trust.
"At best, this is a well-intentioned but potentially dangerous stopgap," she said. "And the danger in it is that teachers in high-wealth schools with more disposable income will earn more points than those in low-wealth schools with less disposable income, and therefore the gap will just get wider."
Learning Network officials say they hope to add new features to TeacherPoints that would address that concern.
To learn more about the program, go to: www.teacherpoints.com.
Framing Teacher Licenses: Earlier this fall, several newspapers in New Mexico carried an editorial in which Mary Lou Cameron, the president of the state affiliate of the National Education Association, suggested the group's members hang their teacher licenses in classrooms to highlight the importance of teacher quality.
But there was a small hitch.
New Mexico's teaching license measures 23/4 inches by 81/4 inches, and the unusual dimensions don't fit any standard frame size. Teachers could try to use a frame meant for a panoramic photograph, but even then the fit is awkward.
That might sound like a trivial problem to some folks. But not Ms. Cameron. She intends to approach a frame manufacturer to see if it will design something to accommodate New Mexico's license.
Beyond that, she plans to ask state education officials to consider changing the dimensions of the licensing document.
Like many states, New Mexico is feeling the pinch of a nationwide teacher shortage. As a result, some schools are hiring people who lack full teaching licenses—a tactic frowned on by most teachers' unions. Framing and hanging teacher licenses in classrooms, Ms. Cameron hopes, will raise the status of licensed teachers.
Mass. Math Alternative: Educators who dislike Massachusetts' new mathematics standards are offering an alternative to the state's teachers and curriculum directors.
The Bay State's official standards emphasize skills and procedures at the expense of conceptual understanding of math principles, according to "Mathematics for All," a document released last month by a coalition of teacher and administrator groups.
Some math educators believe that new standards adopted by the state board of education in July take a traditional drill-and-practice approach to math instruction. Those educators prefer to teach in ways that they say help students gain a broader understanding of math concepts—in some cases, introducing children to statistics and algebra as early as elementary school.
Mary Eich, a spokeswoman for the group that produced "Mathematics for All," said school officials need an alternative document to support efforts to try innovative teaching techniques that are linked to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' standards.
"We feel as though the state document is not appropriate for students," said Ms. Eich, who is also the math-curriculum coordinator for the 11,500-student Newton school district near Boston. "The focus and emphasis is not placed appropriately."
Still, teachers who use the alternative standards could run into problems.
State Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said in a statement that schools may use the alternative standards if they wish, but he emphasized that the state-approved standards would remain the basis for questions that appear on state tests.
"I stand by the curriculum framework approved by the board of education," Mr. Driscoll said. "It's a balance between learning and understanding."
The alternative standards were published by Massachusetts Educators for Mathematics Excellence and are supported by math teachers and curriculum-specialist groups.
They are posted on the Web site of the Massachusetts Teachers Association at www.massteacher.org/hot/mathforall2.html.
Online Science Bookstore: Science teachers now have their own version of amazon.com.
In its "Science Store Online," the National Science Teachers Association imitates the popular retail Web site by reviewing science books and making a purchase as easy as clicking a mouse.
At the NSTA site, customers can read book reviews written by teachers that address teaching practice, laboratory procedures, and scientific content. The short reviews offer suggestions for how to use the books in classroom lessons.
The site's inventory has books for teachers at every grade in the K-12 spectrum and includes books from the NSTA's own publishing arm as well as other publishers.
The group plans to post more than 400 reviews by the end of this month and continue adding new ones, according to Cynthia S. Workosky, the public relations manager for the Arlington, Va.-based association.
The Web site is at www.nsta.org.
Science Stimulates Reading: By using science exploration to tap into students' curiosity, researchers at the University of Maryland College Park are hoping that a project to improve reading-comprehension skills can be copied on a larger scale.
Over the next five years, the research team, led by educational psychologist John T. Guthrie, will test the long-term viability of "concept-oriented reading instruction." The approach combines reading skills with hands-on science activities to spark students' motivation to read.
The $3.4 million project, financed by the National Science Foundation, will include 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students in the Frederick County, Md., school district.
Mr. Guthrie developed the instructional program between 1993 and 1997 while working with a small group of teachers in another Maryland district. Students in that program improved their reading comprehension as measured by state tests. Their motivation to read, as well as their knowledge of science concepts, also improved, according to Mr. Guthrie's study.
"We know that reading comprehension is influenced by both cognitive and motivational factors," the researcher said in a statement. "By integrating science and reading, we introduced a powerful motivating force that pushed children to seek out answers to their own questions. They became self-motivated readers and also mastered the subject matter outlined in the science curriculum."
The academies, founded in 1994, feature a longer school day and rigorous academic standards for all students. The money will be used to start a foundation to copy the program in other cities.
Last summer, educators from Atlanta, Houston, the District of Columbia, and North Carolina participated in a six- week leadership seminar, and continued their training in residencies at the existing KIPP campuses in Houston and the Bronx in New York City. Once they complete the fellowships, they will open KIPP schools in their respective communities.
The KIPP network, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, is expected to expand to up to 150 schools in the next several years.
The network will award additional fellowships next month. For more information, send an e-mail request to: [email protected].
—David J. Hoff, Jeff Archer, & Kanthleen Kennedy Manzo
Vol. 20, Issue 14, Page 12