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Math scores rise, easing fears about new text

Scores watched closely as test of new elementary math curriculum

Palo Alto elementary students logged a strong performance on May's California STAR Test, easing some anxieties about a new math curriculum adopted amid controversy last fall.

The city's traditionally high-scoring elementary pupils scored even higher, particularly on the math section of the exam, which measures students in second grade and above in math and "English Language Arts."

The math scores were particularly watched this year as an indicator of the effectiveness of the "Everyday Mathematics" curriculum, introduced amid controversy in Palo Alto elementary schools last fall.

"Even though we're at a really high level, we continue to make outstanding progress in this regard," Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the Board of Education Tuesday night.

"It's hard to keep moving scores that are this high up, but we continue to do that."

A solid majority of elementary students -- even larger than last year -- scored in the "advanced" range on the math test. Second graders went from 69 percent to 74 percent scoring "advanced," among third graders, the "advanced" number went from 64 percent to 72 percent, among fourth graders, 69 percent to 73 percent and among fifth graders 60 percent to 65 percent.

Most pupils who struggle in math also appeared to make some gains. The percentage of third, fourth and fifth-graders scoring "below basic" or "far below basic" -- hovering around 5 percent -- dropped slightly. However, among second graders, the percentage scoring "below basic" or "far below basic" rose from 4 percent to 5 percent.

Starting in summer 2009, elementary teachers received training on how to teach the new Everyday Mathematics material and were asked to focus strongly on math throughout the year.

Parents and teacher surveys this spring yielded mixed reviews of the new program.

A greater number of parents (52 percent) were regularly helping their children with math homework than a year before (46 percent), according to the 472 parents who responded to the 2010 Elementary School Math Survey.

And parents who felt the math homework materials to be confusing went from 5 percent to 13 percent.

Nearly half the parents who took the survey added individual comments, and they were overwhelmingly negative.

However, there was no change from last year in the percentage of parents who felt their children needed extra help in math (27 percent).

Among teachers, 55 percent agreed with the statement, "I have found the Everyday Math materials to be an improvement to our elementary math program," while 45 percent disagreed.

The narrow, April 2009 school board vote to adopt Everyday Mathematics followed lengthy debate and widespread opposition.

Critics said the program does not sufficiently focus on mastery of basic mathematical concepts.

More than 700 residents petitioned for a one-year delay in the vote so that other, more traditional textbooks could be considered.

Comments

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:19 am

My daughter and many of her friends started math tutoring last year because the new Everyday Math program was so confusing...the rise in test scores is at least partly due to increased outside instruction.


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Posted by Another Mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

My son and his friends too. I agree that EDM was extremely confusing especially if you know math. All the after school math tutoring had more to do with the increase.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:38 am

This article fails to mention the survey that was sent out to parents, particularly elementary parents, about tutoring in math. We need to know if the kids who did well were tutored and if the kids who were not tutored did poorly? We need to know what percentage of elementary kids were tutored in math or else these figures mean nothing.


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Posted by home to roost
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:40 am

"All the after school math tutoring had more to do with the increase."

Of course it did. After all, you couldn't possibly have been, you know, WRONG about EDM.


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Posted by 2 +2
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:44 am

ummm...there is no way ONE YEAR of a new curriculum is going to effect a change in the STAR. It is a cumulative, multi-year exam.

Put 2 and 2 together, read and think critically.


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Posted by JM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:44 am

My daughter seems to have adopted the new program pretty well. We signed her homeworks and read her Math textbook, so we have a sense of what's in it. Yes there is something new. But not a big deal for kids. It requires a couple more turn in our brain. The teacher, a very experience Math teacher she is, said she was doubtful before, but liked Everyday Math after starting teaching.

The right way to read these scores, IMO, from my experience of being parent helper in classrooms for Math for two years, is this:

A) This score is mostly about racial composition of the student body, far more than anything else. If a school/class were unlucky, it is unlucky. Sorry being a little political incorrect. Just my observation.

B) This score also reflects how much drills teachers applied to students. In another word, a balance between STAR tested subjects and not-tested subjects.



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Posted by observing
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

have to say that 2-3 months into the school year, teachers at my son's school started 'supplementing' EDM with the 'older' way of teaching to build proficiency. in addition, many kids (mine included) had more out of school math instruction to counteract the lack of "math proficiency development" that EDM seems to have.


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Posted by observing
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

have to say that 2-3 months into the school year, teachers at my son's school started 'supplementing' EDM with the 'older' way of teaching to build proficiency. in addition, many kids (mine included) had more out of school math instruction to counteract the lack of "math proficiency development" that EDM seems to have.


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Posted by Mom Needs Help
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

My child is in the 3rd grade and didn't do well with EM in 2nd grade. We worked hard on the confusion of it all. I would like to get tutoring (I can afford) can anyone share what and where to look for Em support math tutoring? Is there a location you went to or did you contact someone for one-on-one support? Need help!


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Posted by No-Fan-of-EDM
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2010 at 1:11 pm

> there is no way ONE YEAR of a new curriculum is going to
> effect a change in the STAR

Yes, this is true.

> This score is mostly about racial composition of the student body


Again, true. All educational data sources generally show the following racial/cultural rankings for standardized test: 1) Asian, 2)) White, (big gap in scores), 3) Hispanics, 4) Black.

Before anyone can make any sense out of a jump in scores, one has to look at: 1) the Test, 2) the racial/cultural makeup of the class, 3) test preparation.

> I agree that EDM was extremely confusing especially if you know math

> But not a big deal for kids. It requires a couple more turn
> in our brain.

Most of the people objecting to EDM were parents. That's because the techniques for multiplication and division are quite different than the ones taught in "traditional" math. The EDM techniques are not really "radical", but are designed (we are told) in order to be more obvious to kids at the bottom end of the intellectual/achievement spectrum.

The EDM techniques are pretty tedious, compared to the "traditional" techniques. But as the case with "math", as long as the answers are correct, the techniques become secondary.

Remember that part of the problem is that with personal computing devices (calculators, laptops), a lot of kids were not being taught multiplication and division techniques. Teachers up and down the educational hierarchy were complaining about a complete lack of math skills. Some college teachers were pointing out that public school graduates could not deal with fractions. Remedial math programs were required at all of the CSU campuses--often 70% of incoming freshmen required to remedial coursework.

Bright kids are going to learn, no matter what the technique. EDM was openly sold as a tool to help the kids at the bottom. It makes sense to teach both techniques, however. Having tried both, most people will probably prefer the "traditional" techniques, since they require a lot less paper to achieve simple calculations.

If the School Board claims that these scores "prove" EDM was a good idea, one needs to think a little harder about the people we vote onto this Board in the future.

There has always been a significant "achievement gap" at the PAUSD. The top 2/3rs do very well, but the bottom 1/3rd don't show the value of the high cost of their education. If EDM is to be seen as successful, the bottom 1/3rd should be showing significant improvements in the future.









Like this comment
Posted by jt
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

This is too short of a time frame to make any judgments about this textbook. Either this story was fed to the Weekly by the district or the Weekly came up with this on their own. Either way, it's shallow reporting, to say the least.


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Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Like "observing" above, a few months into the year, our teacher got fed up and started supplementing our math with basics we were all promised would be forthcoming but weren't getting. Most of the solid math our elementary child got was from that.

My own observation is that EDM was a burden on experienced teachers who were then not able to continue a different (auxiliary) math program we had the previous year which PTA money purchased and which all of the children loved (and all the parents asked if we could continue). It seemed to be helpful for less experience teachers who maybe didn't have the tool kit of different ways to teach different concepts to all kinds of kids.

I was appalled that despite the supplementation, my own elementary schooler came home at the end of the summer with these wild algorithms for solving multiplication problems -- which were so confusing, he was spending a huge amount of time on each problem and was getting ALL wrong answers. So I taught him the standard multiplication and long division algorithms. He learned them quickly, he did them quickly, and got the right answers every time. He was pretty upset that he hadn't just been taught that "better" way to multiply and divide.

I could see how the algorithms could help kids who were very visual and who had trouble conceptually understanding multiplication, but this was not my kid, AND they never actually taught the standard algorithm!

Overall, I am not happy with this program. I agree with the parents above, that it's too shallow an analysis and too short a time to say any test results this year have anything to do with the program.


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Posted by How to Survive Everyday Math
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:15 pm

We had Everyday Math when we lived elsewhere and it was a disaster. Fortunately, our children are past elementary school so we don't have to deal with it again. If a teacher follows Everyday Math to a tee, as they did at our last school, it's a complete disservice to students. Our PA teachers are allowed to interpret the program so they can add their own material where it's needed. This is how Everyday Math can be more understandable for students. For instance, the quirky multiplication methods taught in 4th grade are easy and fun if your child already knows how to multiply well but Everyday Math does not give the children adequate multiplication practice, so this is where teachers can fill the void in the program. If your child somehow learns their calculations through workbooks you purchase or through a math program, Everyday Math will be easier for your child.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It is a pity Tom Lehr isn't here to explain it all. He did well on {New Math] one of my favorites, so he could probably handle New Math6.01.
My one concern - was the test "normed"?


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Thank goodness we are past all this stuff - my kids are in college. It is astonishing to follow the never-ending fads of teaching Math - IMO the most direct, straightforward approach with clear explanation is fundamentally best. THEN supplement with word problems or imaginative options for problem solving. A confusing scheme seems unlikely to be worth it.


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Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I find this piece riotously funny. At least if the PAUSD is going to release data in a news blurb, they should have a professional data analyst explain things like the statistical insignificance of an increase from 4-5%. Whatever -- we all expected them to release a story that says "Hey, Everyday Math works!" because in Palo Alto, our kids are always getting smarter and smarter.

But here's why: teachers like ours last year scrapped the EDM program often to teach from her prior year's materials. Did anyone learn division the EDM way? Not at my school, not in our grade! Compounding matters, parents like me supplemented right and left (as evidenced in the survey by increased parent help). So yes, the kids are getting smarter, and no, it's not because of EDM. Like that's news!


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Posted by gunnmom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 27, 2010 at 9:47 am

It's amazing how these math fads are pushed on schools. Must be somebody making money off of the "new" math. Our only recourse is to tutor and supplement and make the latest fad look good. What a waste of money to say the least. And a lot of waste to students who never know what they are missing.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

"Must be somebody making money off of the "new" math. "

When something doesn't seem right, follow the money...


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

"Math scores rise, easing fears about new text "

This was the title of this piece. I fail to see anything in the piece supporting that premise. WHOSE fears have been eased? None of the parents I know, who see their kids getting a more involved, inferior math education in our schools to what they had before this program was introduced.

Were the "fears" of administrators at Churchill eased? Given the unreasonable leap it would take to connect the small rise in this year's scores to the just-introduced EDM, that definitely doesn't easy MY fears about our administration.


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Posted by a mom
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2010 at 3:21 pm

just tell me who will not 'add' external help to their kids once the EDM has implemented!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Another comparison which may be interesting here is to look at the numbers who were assigned remedial math summer school this past summer by their teachers. This remedial class has been going on for a long time but it would be interesting to know if this year's crop were higher in number or if they were in it because they were the ones that were not getting private tutoring outside school.


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Posted by Charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2010 at 4:16 pm

But Math scores has been rising over the years... It only tells us these two events are very much indepentent to each other.


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Posted by Ginny Heilemann
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm

I am a retired teacher in Pennsylvania. I taught Every Day Math in third and second grades for the past nine years. Honestly, you can't judge EDM after one year. I have to say that I didn't like EDM during the first year. However, once the children have had two to three years in the program, you cannot believe the advanced concepts the children learn. They also LOVE math with the manipulatives and games that EDM has. Geometry which is usually left to the end of the year, is taught before winter break; a perfect time! EDM is a fantastic program which also lends toward differentiated teaching and learning.


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Posted by what do the teachers think?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2010 at 8:09 am

More interestingly, how does this all jive with 89% of our teachers supplementing Everyday Math with their own materials (based on 2010 elementary teacher math survey)? That means that most of those who reported that Everyday Math was an improvement supplemented it, presumably because it missed the mark.

Since the district decided not to give teachers any supplementary materials to use, that means that 89% of our teachers each found their own, different materials, to use. That, when added to the very high private outside supplementation that is going on for elementary math, makes it impossible for anyone to conclude anything from these STAR scores.

Teacher comments are quite illuminating: Web Link


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Posted by Swizzle the Data
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

So, the headline could also have read that math scores under Everyday Math did NOT IMPROVE for students who STRUGGLED with math before we adopted Everyday Math.

On the other end, I just saw something comparing PAUSD math scores for ADVANCED students when they were in 4th grade (last year/old math) to their 5th grade scores (this year/new Everyday Math).

PAUSD overall stayed the same (no growth) when you look at the scores this way. Important and large subgroups of kids dropped out of the advanced ranks though, especially previously advanced Hispanic, advanced disabled and, most dramatically, advanced low income students. Lots more of them lost ground under Everyday Math than lost ground between 4th and 5th grade the year before the textbook switch.

This seems to be a much more reasonable way to look at scores (as is what the Obama administration is pushing) since it mostly follows the same students from year to year, who you'd hope would show continual improvement. Just taking snap shots of one grade and comparing that grade's numbers from year to year does not tell you as much as it seems; any teacher will tell you that the character and ability of a grade one year can be quite different from that same grade the next.


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Posted by Nixon Mom
a resident of Nixon School
on Aug 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I strongly opposed Everyday Math and I WAS WRONG. It is a great program!

I used to send my child to math tutoring on the Singapore Math method, but won't do so this year because the new math curriculum IS MUCH BETTER: it is creative, teaches thinking and the students end up understanding the concepts.

By contrast, Singapore Math and the previous curriculum are BORING and REPETITIVE. The EM method is really much better, more fun and useful.

Kids always had math tutoring in PAUSD schools, that hasn't changed up or down. The STAR test scores went up because the new math curriculum is better, not because of tutoring.

I congratulate the PAUSD for choosing it despite the opposition of parents like me, who were afraid of change.



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Posted by 6th grader
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I used it last year, it wasn't a challenge.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Ummm, actually the thing that bothers me is how relatively crummy the language arts scores are in second and third grades. What's going on there? And what happens in fourth grade that the scores start to match up again. Seems to have happened in 2009, too.




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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Something strange going on, because my third grader's verbal, language, and writing skills tend to be better than math, yet the test was 100% on almost all areas of math, but only high proficient in language. Looking at the breakdown, everything was really good except one aspect "written conventions" --

Interestingly, my third grader's friends had almost identical results.

Possible explanations:
1) The kids are missing some key educational milestone they need in 3rd grade
2) The kids are missing a key test taking skill
3) The kids were right and the grading was in error
4) The kids are spending so much time on the new math program, language arts is being neglected....


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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Duveneck School
on Aug 30, 2010 at 8:34 pm

How can Nixon Mom say this with certainty? "Kids always had math tutoring in PAUSD schools, that hasn't changed up or down. The STAR test scores went up because the new math curriculum is better, not because of tutoring."

I think it is a Nixon teacher in disguise. Her statements are hot air.


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Posted by math
a resident of Addison School
on Aug 31, 2010 at 12:17 am

Many wonderful educators did the minimum requirement to teach from EDM textbooks (I believe only 1 month) and then taught from their own supplemental materials with their style of teaching. It is all about a teacher, not a textbook. Talk to your teachers and encourage them to find their own voice in how to teach rather then take EDM textbook as a gospel.


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Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 31, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I have worked in the schools for 11 years. Teachers have always done their own supplementation for kids who need it as well as for the hot shots who are done in a trice and start fooling around. I have seen materials from the school they used to teach at; materials with tags from Morrison's, Linden Tree, Amazon; materials they got from a friend who teaches elsewhere; things they write up themselves. Some of my teachers were already teaching many of the computation techniques in EDM. They were glad to have all that stuff in one book.

Furthermore, my mother was a school aide in the '60s and '70s. I have a few of the workbooks the kids used then. They were 9" x 13" and solid with computations and word problems. You wouldn't believe how many of the ideas and techniques in those old books have been used or are being resurrected with EDM. (Even the slantwise Persian multiplication!) Everything that goes around comes around. Nothing your kids are doing is straight from the head of Zeus. Just dive in and have fun with it. Go to math nights when your school has them.


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Posted by ca_research_files
a resident of Nixon School
on Sep 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm

The raw test scores are easily subject to grade inflation. What matters most is the relative position of our schools among all (over 5500) California schools. It is interesting to compare those positions of 2009 second graders with 2010 third graders These are the youngest students subject to the textbook change that have been tested in both years.

In that category only three of PA schools made improvements: Hoover, Nixon and Addison. All others positions have dropped. Most dramatic droops are for Barron Park (from 1405 in 2009 to 1775 in 2010), Escondido (from 433 in 2009 to 895 in 2010) and Palo Verde (from 92 in 2009 to 467 in 2010).

Hardly a reason for celebration.


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Posted by Amazing
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm

This is an amazing dialog. People either cherry-pick the data to say that kids aren't really doing that well, say it is because of parent support, or that teachers aren't really using the material anyway.

Could it be as simple as the fact that the district paid more attention to math,that teachers devoted more time to math, and that the teachers in our district are smart enough to use material well and they know how to teach?

The lack of respect some people have for education and educators is astounding. In countries that are educationally successful a cornerstone of that success is the respect for teachers. We could use a little more trust in our educators in this community....and it would be very powerful modeling for our students.


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Posted by Kit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm

@ Amazing: If you read the forums when PAUSD was considering EDM, you'd understand that EDM is not a popular program and many parents and teachers are/were trying to overthrow the program in their schools. The only saving grace we have is that our teachers are smart enough to only teach partial EDM and revise the program themselves while adding their own materials. This will lead to unbalanced teaching.

EDM was adopted due to one bully who had an agenda for her school, and apparently, her school's scores have dropped significantly this year.


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Posted by Amazing
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm

One bully? Wow. I didn't know the district and its teachers were so malleable. If I were a teacher, I would be insulted by the thought that one bully made a decision like this.

I thought the teachers supported EDM. Did I miss something?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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