Testing, Math, and Music: Top 10 Curriculum Matters Posts for 2015

By Liana Loewus — December 28, 2015 3 min read
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Each year, we take a look at Curriculum Matters’ most-read blog posts, and in 2015 it seems two major themes got readers clicking: common-core testing and math instruction.

And that makes sense. This was the year that the majority of states switched over to standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. But the move to new tests was a fraught one—many states initially planned to use one common-core-aligned test and ultimately administered another. So readers needed to stay up to speed on the shifting testing landscape.

And with new tests come new concerns about curriculum and instructional strategies, so it’s no surprise our posts on fractions, math memorization, and classroom assignments did well, too.

Here’s a rundown of our top 10 posts for the year, starting with the most-viewed of all.

1) A Map of States’ 2015 Testing Plans: The Dust Has Finally Settled

My colleagues Catherine Gewertz and Andrew Ujifusa painstakingly gathered testing plans from each state, which turned up a more fragmented national picture than the common-core initiative had once promised. This is a complete map of which states took what tests for the 2014-15 testing cycle.

2) ‘Fraction Phobia': The Root of Math Anxiety?

In an interview, Hung-Hsi Wu, a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, told me that the beginnings of math anxiety in students can often be traced to “the day they go to school and learn about fractions.”

3) Survey Shows Teachers, Parents Place Value on Music Education

Parents would rather cut Advanced Placement or gym classes than music, according to a study that came out this spring.

4) Stanford Professor: Stop With the Math Memorization

In one of our most controversial posts of the year, Stanford math education professor Jo Boaler argues that U.S. math students do too much memorizing, which causes them to dislike the subject.

5) Heavier Homework Load Linked to Lower Math, Science Performance, Study Says

The optimal amount of homework for 13-year-old students is about an hour a day, a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found.

6) UPDATED: PARCC Sets Cut Scores for Test, But Won’t Say What They Are

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers made the strange PR decision to let people know it had set cut scores for the test, without disclosing the actual numbers. A day later the group relented and published the cut scores.

7) Math Consultant: Smarter Balanced Math Tests Have ‘Egregious Flaws’

An education consultant looked at Smarter Balanced’s online practice tests for mathematics, and concluded that they were “a quagmire of poor technological design, poor interaction design, and poor mathematical design.”

8) Classroom Assignments Fail to Meet Common-Core’s Higher Bar, Study Says

The Education Trust analyzed 1,500 student tasks assigned at six urban middle schools, and found that only about 2 in 5 were aligned to grade-appropriate common-core standards.

9) New Federal Law Means Computer Science Is Officially Part of STEM

Interest in K-12 computer science has been on the rise, and the feds gave the subject a nod by including it in a new definition of STEM.

10) ‘The Martian’ Is Full of Math Word Problems, Says Author Andy Weir

To me, this was the most fun blog post of the year. (It was certainly the most fun to write!) In it, Andy Weir, the author of the best-selling novel “The Martian,” which also became a critically acclaimed film this year starring Matt Damon, talks about the process of writing a scientifically accurate book about a hypothetical space mission to Mars. And he offers a new lens that teachers may find helpful: The book is essentially a series of word problems, many of which can be solved using algebra-level math and science.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.