Tuesday, December 21, 2010

District High School Math Test Scores Drop Over 23% Under "Kids First" BoE Leadership in 2009-2010 - What Can Be Done and What Should Not Be Done

Recall the bravado about

"assuring a rise in test scores" from the Kids First Board of Education majority in late 2009 and again around election time in Spring 2010. This was when Kids First Board members were "disgusted" by "horrible" state tests scores students were receiving at the high schools.

Well the 2009-2010 school year was the first full year that Kids First was in full control of the Hoboken Public Schools and during that time, they made a number of instructional and curricula decisions including the strategy of escorting award winning high school Principal Dr. Lorraine Cella out of the high school and not effectively overseeing the implementation of a nearly 2 year effort of curriculum and professional development well documented throughout the district. It was also a year that saw the addition of over a dozen additional administrators to the Hoboken School District..."specialists" tasked with improving curriculum and instruction (although they often complained of the "bloated" number of district administrators less than one year before).

The "guaranteed" results?

Not so good.


2009 2010

State Criteria 74 74

HHS 53.2

Demarest 46.2

District 52.5 40.3

Mathematics scores in the high school are down over 23% from 2008-2009. The responsibility is not with the expert teachers. All are highly qualified as defined by the State of New Jersey. All are exceptional. Rather, given the recent one year drop of over 23% in the Mathematics portion of the NJASK scores during the 2009-2010 school year, it might be time to begin paying attention to the curricula, staffing, and instructional decisions the Hoboken Board majority is making concerning children's education in the high school.

For instance, during the Spring of 2010, at the same time Kids First suspended Adult Education, and essentially eliminated the Saturday U program for gifted and talented students, they also decided to adopt the use of Advanced Placement (AP) courses in the high school. Supposedly at the "parents request". Unfortunately, parents, and Board of Education members are not educational professionals. Here are some independent quotes about AP courses in Mathematics- just like those the Kids First Board of Education wants implemented at Hoboken High School:

1) David E. Mills, an economics professor at Virginia believes that AP courses are tailored to the exams, and that high-school instructors impart test-taking strategies at the expense of writing and critical-thinking skills.

2) Similarly, the president of Bard College in New York believes "AP is a second-rate alternative to advanced teaching. It's a test-driven curriculum, and that's completely anathema to anything a university does." Consequently, Bard is not accepting AP credit. Two related criticisms of AP programs are noted in a New York Times article (High School Drops It's A.P. Courses, and Colleges Don't Seem to Mind):

  • AP courses restrict teacher creativity and the ability to probe enticing themes.
  • AP syllabi cover so much ground that “there is very little liberty for the teachers” to extend discussions.

3) Finally, a National Academies of Sciences report summarizes a critique of AP math and science programs:

  • Accelerated classes that cover a smorgasbord of topics and final examinations that devote insufficient attention to the integration of important ideas cannot produce superior learners, says the report, which concentrates on biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics in Advanced Placement (AP) programs in U.S. secondary schools.

Test taking mathematics strategy as a pedagogical means of delivery for mathematics instruction will always be a dead end. While accountability tests are a reality--how to deliver effective, motivating and meaningful math instruction is also a well known reality. Yet, the Kids First Board of Education majority insists they know better when it comes to curricula and pedagogical matters.

Education is about more than political "spin" and elections. It's about effective and meaningful leadership and professional expertise.

What is an alternative? Well, the curriculum that was overseen by myself and in collaboration with the expert help and assistance of the Hoboken Curriculum Committee would be a start. A similar approach would be one that is advocated for by Conrad Wolfram, founder of Mathematica.

Conrad Wolfram says the part of math we teach -- calculation by hand -- isn't just tedious, it's mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world. He presents his radical idea: teaching kids math through computer programming. Spend a few minutes and take a look at this video and ask why this approach to mathematics is not being taught in your child's school. The result would be more engaged and motivated students, more relevant curriculum, AND higher test scores.

Please spend a few moments and watch the video and see what you think: