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Student-achievement data indicates room for improvement
Original post made
on Sep 25, 2013
Palo Alto Unified's Academic Performance Index (API) score, gathered by the California Department of Education, indicates that the school district is making slower progress with some groups of students than others.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 9:18 AM
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Posted by Paly'11
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2013 at 2:41 am
Paly'11 is a registered user.
Now that we are hopefully on the same page, I'd love to focus instead on the actual arguments regarding Paly's math department. I'll begin responding from the top of your post down.
I agree with you that achievement should increase for underperforming students just as I agree that achievement should also increase for those meeting expectations and those that are exceeding expectations.
I acknowledge that the SVEF table I cited doesn't show breakdown by race for Alg. 2 CST pass ratesit wasn't cited for that purpose. It was cited to demonstrate the aggregate statistic that the school is able to keep its rigor while passing the most students on the testan indication that the department's high standards work.
You bring up racial disparity when it comes to passing SVEF. The SVEF data was from 2008 and designed only to show that the school is very competent at teaching. The 85 (4.5%) students who outright failed the course as mentioned by the Math Letter, however (as opposed to failing just CST), failed in 2012. Since about ~11-13% of the school of ~1900 is of African American or Latino descent, of course there are a strong number of students that identify as such who are passing. You argue out of the 85 (at least I believe so, as I'm confused whether you refer to those passing CST or those passing the Paly course with a C- or better, as the difference matters in regard to the Math Letter we are talking about vs. API scores), a disproportionate number are underrepresented minorities. I'd love to see the data on that, but even those numbers only prove a correlation. In order to argue race is a main factor motivating this disparity, you'd need a longitudinal study based in PAUSD following the same set of students from the moment they all begin to learn math through preferably the end of 12th grade to determine that there is some type of racial bias or an inability for PAUSD/Paly teachers to teach certain ethnicities at the same level as others. That doesn't exist. You also can't use a study done elsewhere to prove racism, because its not the same group of teachers and not the same system.
Given that nothing establishes a systemic racial bias within the Paly system (so why bring up racial divides when we can't implement race specific solutions to fix a problem because there is no race-specific problem), you'd have to look at it through some other point of view like socioeconomic status to better capture variables that have an affect on math achievement. There are two broad ways to look at it: one is through factors teachers can't control, and the other is the one they can. Those they can't control would be socioeconomic status, previous background in coursework, distance from school, parental education, family structure, etc. Those they can are associated with the school instructional method itself: teaching quality, teaching method, context of school, student motivation, opportunities for advancement, resource allocation, etc.
Going back to this statement you make: "You say that there is a small number of PAUSD students who do not pass the CST for Algebra 2 but you do not acknowledge that this group is disproportionately comprised of minority students. These are students who are similar to minority students who are succeeding in Algebra 2 elsewhere. Why is that? The most obvious explanation is given by the Math Letter itself -- the teachers in PAUSD expect these students to fail while teachers elsewhere expect them to succeed."
First, we shouldn't look at minority students from the lens of race: as explained above, do the breakdown in terms of socioeconomic status, ESL, etc. as it better captures the division. Second, if Paly Math expected them uniquely to fail, and assuming "expected" means that teachers will not teach these specific students in the same manner as other students they expected to succeed, how does you explain the majority of underrepresented minority students passing the course? If you were to look at it from a different perspective like socioeconomic status, which immediately would capture the differences between VTP and non-VTP students, that would explain the different performances of students within the same race while giving us a good framework to better solve the problem. Third, even after writing the above, I don't understand how expectations necessarily hamper students' ability to succeed so long as the teacher doesn't treat this student in class any differently than another student. In fact, teachers spend more time with students who are struggling in class than students who are doing well if those struggling students seek the teacher outnecessarily implying that whatever expectation they have has no bearing no whether or not they help those students. You can see this through the various makeup classes that teachers hold and their open-door policy for students to seek help during Tutorial and over breaks. I don't understand why it's an obvious reason like you say. Fifth, there's a human element that goes along with this: please go meet the teachers first before you make these statements. It's also downright ridiculous to simplify the debate to an issue of race.
Next, let's talk about the Math Letter. Looking back at the two types of factors that influence student achievement, it's clear Toma was discussing factors beyond the control of teachers (this would be made clear if you've ever talked to him). The word "objectively" can be interpreted differently than the one you propose; that is, it does not mean that VTP students by design will fail, for example, but rather that there are factors that objectively are making it much more difficult for the student to pass whose impact Toma can't change no matter what he does. Those factors are proven beyond any reasonable doubt (thus, the word "objective") to affect students' learning abilities. It is not paternalistic to say that a student is more likely than not to fail if there are major adverse factors that are proven to affect student's ability to learn. The various math lanes are designed so that each student, given his or her unique combination of these factors, can choose the lane best suited to maximize his or her achievements.
You allude to unnamed Stanford educators to support your point about unspecified outdated teaching methods at Paly. Without knowing whom they are and what methods you and they are specifically talking about, you leave me no way to respond.
I bring up my background to suggest that people should consider what the impact of reducing educational standards in foundational math classes for STEM majors would be. I claim this would be very bad; you can argue differently, and I obviously don't have any objective data to support my claim other than my experience as a student and those around me. Food for thought.
You bring up that an educational policy should work for all students. But what should the tradeoff be? Parity would seem to come at the cost of educational quality if measured by any statistical metric. The Paly Math department, with an Alg. 2 passage rate of 96.5%, would rather that we do not structurally disadvantage the remaining 4.5% who have already failed the course or others in the future who are more likely than not going to fail. That seems to me like a fine compromise that still looks out for the 4.5% because they can still graduate with a diploma. If we implement the requirement, it doesn't help preserve quality education while giving it to the entire student populationit decreases quality education while forcing students to fail. It's not like we can automatically pass the remaining 4.5% immediately within the next year. Students will not just fail the course, but fail to graduate as a result of the program because it is impossible to see educational gains in math of that magnitude within a year.
"The issue is how to have a department that works for all students rather than one that
sends the VTP and underepresented minority students to "community college and jobs" to use Mr. Toma's cruel turn of phrase."
You write as if all underrepresented minority students/VTP students fail, which really is a great disservice to the number of those who are succeeding and is mathematically impossible given the statistics cited. It's definitely not what I indicate when I write that there are those who choose these paths because they cannot pass Alg 2 to enter the UC/CSU system. Some students hate math or are just naturally ungifted at it, regardless of race/ethnicity/social economic status, etc. Why needlessly punish them by not even giving them a diploma, is the question I'm posing. Why force students who you've identified as more likely than not to fail a specific course into that very course? At Paly, all math lanes reach Alg. 2. If you can't pass the course, the teachers are saying that's all right because alternatives exist. And again, its not like there is a unique achievement discrepancy based on race that is happening solely in Palo Alto and nothing is being done about it. That's an absolutist look at an extremely relative problem.
I agree we can do better and that its a necessary goal. I disagree that blaming the school for failing to meet arbitrary interpretations of data is a solution to get there.
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Posted by Paly'11
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2013 at 2:59 am
Paly'11 is a registered user.
You also write that Algebra 2 is a necessity, citing our 21st century economy and Robert Moses. Let's delve more into this debate. A necessity for what? I'm not sure. If you mean for getting a job within computer science, well then, you obviously wouldn't have trouble with Algebra 2 in the first place! First, having spent some time now on the Alg. Project website, I'd appreciate it if you read the NYT article I had linked. Here are a couple of select quotes from the 2012 article:
"A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn't to blame. Isn't this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.
Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists."
"What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It's true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there's no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x² - y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis."
Let's see what the Algebra Project has to say about it. I'm looking at their "The Need" page (Web Link).
"As a result, algebra has become a gatekeeper of higher learning, career, and economic opportunities."
I'd completely agree with this in the sense that people need to see that you have studied the subject to move to these opportunities, even if a majority of them don't require it on the job. But this is irrelevant because Paly is not systematically blocking students from trying to learn algebra. Look at the lanes: the lowest ends with Alg. 2 senior year, fulfilling the requirements of the Algebra Project. (Web Link). We are just refusing to make the Algebra 2 class a necessity to graduate.
The rest of the page goes on to discuss national statistics regarding disproportionate incarceration rates for African American males, alarmingly rising drop-out statistics, and pointing out glaring issues with teachers who do not have math degrees teaching math (a scary 68% in 1999.) None of these are endemic issues related to Paly; the second would actually be an issue if we were to implement the requirement. The Algebra Project says it mainly does work in predominantly low-income neighborhoods where most likely school systems themselves are broken. That's not descriptive of our school system.
We're not talking about basic algebra, like knowing how functions work, the ability to identify a clear cause and effect relationship using variables, and analyzing rates of change with slopes and graphs. We're talking about Algebra 2. There is a distinct difference.
I listened to Moses' KQED audio recording. Here are some quotes he makes:
"The historical shift from the industrial age, technology which drove the economy after the civil war and all through the 20th century, to this information age economy that we are transitioning into. The industrial age requires reading and writing literacy if you were going to access the economic arrangement, you had to be literate, just to read the instructions at a bare minimum. The computers are driven by a mix of algebra and logic. It has ushered in a quantitative literacy outside of the reading and writing literacy."
"The kids who are graduating with the equivalent of 8th grade literacy in reading and writing and math, they are destined to be the serfs of the information age. We are locking them up and sending them into prison. It's a real issue."
He goes on to say that the AP helps low-resource schools teach these issues to students. All of these points are good, but he doesn't describe the exact benchmark we need, and I can't find it on the site. We know we need more than 8th grade literacy in ELA and Math. That has been accomplished. He doesn't explain why more advanced topics in Algebra 2 should be required. If anything it seems that the Algebra Project should incorporate teaching statistics to their program along with more useful math principles to help explain many of the fundamental mathematical quantities influencing our liveshow to read a study or research, how to properly analyze data, how to read a poll and understand its impact, how to read the Consumer Price Index and understand what that means, how to understand the intersection of interest rates, inflation, and taxes, how to balance budgets, how to not get tricked by organizations with political agendas feeding biased data, etc.
Finally, back to the original discussion, I'd also caution you to view this in terms of an achievement gap rather than the continued increase in advancing results (if we were to look at API scores, for example):
"In my view, more harm than good usually results from framing student achievement primarily from a gap perspective, as opposed to an advancement (gains and excellence) perspective accompanied by strategic essentialism. By focusing more on student advancement over time, studies can both document the malleability of "intelligence" (something that benefits teachers who need a reason to invest in students) while also looking to identify accompanying factors that may have supported student gains. Shifting the focus away from racial and ethnic group comparisons also more closely mirrors the demographic reality of schools, validates students as worthy of study in their own right (exploring variation within groups), and puts the focus back on school contexts rather than variables that are not within the control of schools or teachers or researchers" (Guitierrez, 2008) (Article: Web Link) (Author bio: Web Link)
I hope this clears up the points you had with my earlier post, as well as my qualms with issues you've raised.
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