Sunday, November 29, 2009

The truth of Spokane's K-12 math program

Statement from Laurie Rogers:

Many people in Washington State aren't aware of just how unprepared our students are in mathematics, at nearly every grade, as they leave elementary school, as they enter high school, and when they graduate - IF they graduate. Statements keep coming at us from education administrators that supposedly point to improved scores, high rankings, increased enrollment in advanced classes, and a strong showing on college placement classes. This consistent misrepresentation of the situation has a dramatic impact on how they see the problem and what they think should be done.
On Nov. 25, in a guest editorial for the Spokesman-Review, for example, Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn said of Washington: "We are one of just 24 states that have high school exit exams, which places us far ahead of more than half the nation." Also, "We consistently finish near the top on national tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the SAT and the ACT."
But these statements are a reworking of the hard truth, as you'll see below.
Local administrators also work hard to give a rosy impression of achievement. In Spokane's Nov. 25 meeting of the high school math curriculum adoption committee, I was told NAEP scores went up "two grades," and I was shown scatter plots that supposedly indicate improved student achievement.

At the Dec. 3 meeting of the curriculum adoption committee, I gave members the following information:


Quotations from the August 2009 issue of Spokane Public Schools “School Talk”

“Spokane Public Schools administrators have been working to establish and support a consistent mathematics program across the district…Classrooms have become places where students are highly engaged in the learning process.”
High school teacher: “I’m impressed by the students’ depth of understanding and their ability to communicate mathematical ideas.”
(But Shadle High School’s pass rate for the 2009 10th-grade math test was 47.4%.)
Elementary school teacher: “Kids are able to apply concepts seamlessly in different contexts. They are excited about math now.”
(But Ridgeview Elementary School’s pass rates were 62.1%, 56.3%, 58.2% and 43.5%).
Middle school teacher: “The curriculum does a good job of pushing kids to discover their own understanding. and it also allows time to practice skills and algorithms.”
(But Chase Middle School’s pass rates for the 2009 math WASL were 52.8% and 55.6%).
Elementary school teacher again: “We’re not throwing good practices away. We are melding them with the new things we know.”

Spokane students’ actual mathematical achievement paints a different picture from that perpetuated by the school district. Below is the truth of Spokane's (and Washington State's) K-12 mathematics program.


Real Data for Spokane Public Schools’ Student Achievement:

In Spring 2009, just 42.3 % of Spokane’s 10th graders passed the math portion of the WASL. The passing cut score is reportedly at about 54%. The content has been estimated as comparable to about a 7th-grade-level internationally.
Therefore, in Spring 2009, 57.7% of Spokane's 10th-grade students could not pass a math test that reportedly required just over 56% to pass and that is based on 7th- or 8th-grade content.

In order to test as “proficient” in mathematics on the 2009 Mathematics NAEP, 4th-grade students needed to reach just 249 on a scale of 500. Sadly, 57% of Washington’s 4th-grade students couldn’t do it. The average score for Washington’s 4th-graders was 242 out of 500.
In order to test as “proficient” in mathematics on the 2009 Mathematics NAEP, 8th-grade students needed to reach just 299 on a scale of 500. Sadly, 61% of Washington’s 8th-grade students couldn’t do it. The average score for Washington’s 8th-graders was 289 out of 500.

Spokane's Advanced Placement Classes

1992 2000 2008
Number of students 193 368 1093
Number of exams 271 636 2028
Number of course areas 13 15 27
Number of exams passed 198 517 1099
Percent passing 73% 81% 54%
Number of exams failed 73 121 929
Percent failing 27% 19% 46%
Average grade 3.18 3.45 2.72

The 2006 SAT.

In March 2007, former State Superintendent Terry Bergeson stated that for four years, Washington’s average SAT scores were the highest in the nation. But when I looked at SAT scores for 1995-2007, we were neither the highest nor the lowest. Finally, I realized what Dr. Bergeson was saying: Washington is at the bottom of the top half of the states with respect to how many of its students take the SAT.
In 2006, about 55% of Washington students took the SAT, while in other states, it was as few as 3% or as many as 100%. Counting just those states that had similar participation rates, Washington was ranked first. Therefore, Washington scored lower on the 2006 SAT than 24 other states – and Dr. Bergeson still claimed it was highest in the nation.

The 2009 SAT.
On Aug. 25, 2009, Washington State's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reported once again that “State SAT Scores Lead the Nation.” “For the seventh consecutive year,” an OSPI press release said, “Washington state SAT averages are the highest in the nation among states in which more than half of the eligible students took the tests … ”
It’s also important to note that the 2009 SAT scaled score was between 200 and 800. In mathematics, Washington students scored an average of 531 out of 800. Washington’s black students scored an average of 446 out of 800.

The ACT.
In August 2008, OSPI released ACT scores, saying that “for the fifth straight year,” Washington students scored “far above” the national average. Washington scored 23.1; the national average was 21.1.
However, the highest possible score on the ACT is 36. The benchmark score is 22. The benchmark is the “minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher” in college Algebra.
In 2009. Washington’s composite score in math slipped to 22.9 out of 36.

(Updated with actual figures June 11, 2010): The remedial rate at Spokane Community Colleges in 2008/2009 was 96.3%. The remedial rate at Spokane Falls Community College in 2008/2009 was 83.5%. Together, it was 87.1%. Of the students who took remedial classes that year, most tested into Elementary Algebra or lower. Of the students who took remedial classes in 2008/2009, nearly 47% failed those classes or withdrew early.

FTE (Full-Time Enrollment);
FTE in Spokane Public Schools has dropped by about 2,500 students since 2002/2003. This is a net figure, not a gross figure, therefore, incoming students likely have offset the total drop.
A Fall 2008 district survey of families who chose to leave the district showed that about 33% said the quality of the curriculum didn’t meet their expectations. Five of the top six schools having out-of-district transfers were high schools. Five of the district’s 7 middle schools were listed in the top 14. A whopping 79% of students who left went to: the Mead School District; online for virtual options; or to the West Valley School District. (Private schools were not included in the survey.)

Academically-related reasons chosen for leaving:
33%: Quality of curriculum does not match your expectations
26%: District class sizes too large
21%: Desired coursework is not offered in the district
19%: Student is not on schedule to graduate
12%: Student is enrolled in a full-time non-district on-line program
12%: Student has not met the 10th grade WASL standards
6%: There is not space for student in a particular district program
According to a recent Spokane Public Schools PowerPoint presentation ironically called “Becoming a World-Class System,” just “66% of students in SPS actually graduate from high school.”


And there you have it, folks. The truth of mathematics achievement in Spokane and Washington State. This is where public school administrators' almost complete dedication to reform math and constructivist teaching styles have brought us.
Don't let anyone tell you things are looking up relative to mathematics. In order for that to happen, administrators would have to modify their thinking.
In upcoming articles, I'll show you more evidence of the thinking in Spokane Public Schools relative to mathematics instruction.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted.

The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (December, 2009). "The truth of Spokane's K-12 math program." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

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