Town Square

School board presses 'math task force' members

Original post made on Mar 30, 2012

"Flexible groupings" of students — not laning — was among the strategies endorsed by the Palo Alto school district's Task Force on Elementary Mathematics, which reported its findings to the Board of Education Tuesday, March 27.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 30, 2012, 12:00 AM


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2012 at 7:17 pm

We Can Do Better Palo Alto supports making timed math tests optional and strongly recommends that the community read Professor Boaler's excellent paper. You can read it here: Web Link

In this paper, Professor Boaler summarizes the literature on math anxiety and timed tests from neuroscience and brain research in a very accessible manner. She also recounts results from a recent study on the use of these tests in a Silicon Valley school district and the way that young children can be negatively impacted by time pressure.

We believe that teachers should have the flexibility to utilize a variety of assessment tools and not have one district-mandated assessment for all children, regardless of whether that tool is appropriate to that child or not. Some children, like my son, found the tests to be annoying but did them uncomplainingly, while others cried and developed stomach aches as a result. The classroom teacher should not be forced to put small children as young as first grade into a situation that they know to be pedagogically counterproductive by district mandate. The board should make these tests optional. They do not help the learning of many children and lead instead to math anxiety and academic stress.

We appreciate Professor Boaler's efforts to share her research and knowledge with the community and with PAUSD.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm

One slight correction to my post, the district where the research was conducted is identified in the paper merely as a "US school district." I misread the location.

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Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2012 at 8:27 pm

We did math timed tests when I was a kid, and I remember it as being the motivating factor behind my having rapid recall of basic math facts. I am still grateful.

In our classroom, the kids liked the timed tests - but they gave them to the kids to time themselves and keep track against their own performance, which I think is even better.

I say "gave" because only one teacher gave them. Everyone else has been too busy learning EDM - and feeling pressure from the district to get with the program and NOT do other things - I feel really cheated by what has happened with our school's math education since EDM was introduced and how the teachers have spent their time learning the nuts and bolts of the program rather than using tried and true resources they've developed over the years.

If the district is aware of and condoning teachers supplementing EDM, it's something new or that they haven't updated all the teachers about.

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Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

I worked extensively in elementary classrooms in PA with kids at the high and low ends of math when my kids were in those grades. PA has lots of kids who are far advanced in math at a very early age and whose talents and passion are languishing. At the same time we have a fair number of kids who struggle with math and cannot keep up with the math taught in the classroom. These latter kids develop strategies to appear that they are keeping up when they are not. A lot of them do not learn the most basic math skills that they will need in life but get passed along to the next grade.

People learn math at different rates and in different ways. It makes absolutely no sense to continue this "one size fits all" strategy or to ask teachers to teach at 3 different levels to one class. Kids need to either have individualized computer-based instruction where each kid goes at their own pace MASTERING material before they move on or else the need to be laned. Laning got a bad name due to a combination of poor execution (assigning poor teachers and dumping problem kids into lower lanes) and sloppy, even semi-fraudulent research by people trying to kill laning.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

When is the district going to admit that Everyday Math has been a huge mistake, and that the supplemental materials are being used to try to shore up a failing program?
I still can't understand the point of a math task force that was specifically barred by the district from evaluating the impact of Everyday Math.

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Posted by Vianicq
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I agree thar the timed tests backfire. My child a first grader at Palo Verde struggles with the timed tests and based on my conversatuons with other parents he is not alone. He does well when left alone but these timed tests are causing tremendous anxiety. How can first graders be expected to memorise math facts upto 10 and produce them accurately in five mintues everytime they are tested, when a lot of them are still counting with fingers and tallies and have just started formal math learning.Like someone pointed out here, everyone learns math at a different pace. I have no idea how much sullpementation or drills there is.

My other frustration with everyday math is I have no clue on what my child is doing and I have no way of knowing where he is at and if he needs any help. The handouts that come home are very inadequate.

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Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Why isn't the Kahn method tried? It is successfully used in the Los Altos School District and seems to answer most of problems mentioned above. I think the web link below goes to the site, or just type Kahn Academy into your browser.

Web Link

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Posted by Interested
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm

> My other frustration with everyday math is I have no clue
> on what my child is doing

What exactly don't you understand about your child's progress? Can you provide some clarification?

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Posted by Kahn Academy is here now
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 5, 2012 at 12:15 am

Anyone can use Kahn Academy. It is a GREAt resource. It is free and it can be found here

Web Link

Our family has been using it to supplement at home when our children are struggling to grasp a concept or for practise when it is needed.

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Posted by Tim
a resident of Addison School
on Apr 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Addison now has an after-school program using Khan Academy and had 70 students in the introductory ten week pilot that just ended and over 100 signed up for the next seven week session. Students seem to like the extra math practice afforded through the Khan exercises and their ability to work at their own pace. Many choose to work at home too. Students literally run from their class to get to the computer lab and get started. Program runs on Wednesdays from 1:15 to 2:15 and Fridays from 2:20 to 3:45. Guests are welcome.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Yeah, get rid of timed tests! Who cares if it takes a 5-grader 3 mins to work out what 5x5 equals?

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Posted by Interested
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm

> Guests are welcome.

Why not video one or two of these sessions, and let everyone in the community see what is going on?

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Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Try Kahn Academy at home. Generally, kids like it. The instruction quality is good. The practise is excellent with immediate feedback (which kids really appreciate--because they know they are doing it right). It's free. Parents, this is an excellent resource that is available to you for free at home. If you have access to the internet, you already have access to Kahn Academy.

To check it out, go to Web Link

This is an online math resource that EVERY kid can use. It has been very helpful for my kids.

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Posted by Elementary school parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I don't think the issue is timed tests, but how those tests fit in the math curriculum. I wouldn't say my 2nd grader struggles with math because he gets all the concepts just fine and can tell you a bunch of ways to get to answers, he gets how all the word problems work and the basic ways numbers interact, etc. But earlier in the year he hadn't memorized all his math facts yet. This led to "I'm bad at math!"

Upon investigating, I concluded that they don't do much basic drilling of this stuff in class - they are on to other concepts, etc. Fine, so I bought a workbook and downloaded a math app with timed tests to motivate him, and we added a little "math time" alongside reading time at home. Now he's got them memorized and is fine.

My point, though, is this: I think timed math fact tests are a good way to ensure those basic facts are mastered. But once a kid understands conceptually how to add/subtract/multiply/divide and how that fits in to math problems, the learning part is basically done, and they just need to memorize the basic tables before they move on to harder things. Rote drilling/memorization is not a major part of the math curriculum, and it appears to me there is not enough of it for a kid who is average at math or memorization to commit them to memory by the time they start to get timed-evaluated on it. I can see how this could create some anxiety. It did for my kid.

It was an easy supplement to add the practice, I had no issues doing it, and my kid is no longer saying he is bad at math since he now has the memorization down. But if we're going to do timed tests with minimal memorization drills, we should be sure parents understand it's not drilled in class much. Most parents locally are happy to work on things at home but it's not always clear when and where it's necessary. (I never really thought I'd be going out buying workbooks in 2nd grade.)

P.S. this is related to the question about whether homework is functional. Some of the homework in early elementary seems like busywork, but drilling to memorize math facts is one way homework can actually meet a learning need at this age.

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Posted by C
a resident of Duveneck School
on Apr 6, 2012 at 1:35 am

I am another person disgruntled with "Everyday Math." My family and I argued against it when it was first being debated, however, parental lobbying groups forced into the general curriculum. Ignoring the way that the problems are written (Example, not directly quoted, "Johnny has 5 coins. His friend Joey gives him 3 coins. How many coins does Johnny have now? Draw and count the coins.) to encourage the advancement of drawing skills rather than mathematical skills, the problem with EDM is that it fails to teach basic multiplication tables. If I remember, EDM does not require having multiplication tables memorized. Personally, I believe that learning multiplication tables is mandatory, and that timed tests are a good way of learning them -- or at least helping. If you don't consistently get a problem wrong, how will someone know that a weak times table is 6x7=42? Doing a bunch of workbook problems, unlikely to ask the question more than once, will probably not do the best job. Quizzes? I favor them.

I went through elementary school, at Duveneck, prior to everyday math's installment. My "timed tests" were in third grade to ensure that we had memorized our multiplication tables. There were multiple levels (starting at x1's, then to x2's, then to x3's, including the prior x's. If this makes sense -- the first test would hold only y times 1, whereas the third could hold x times one, two, or three) and after scoring well on one level, you'd move to the next. Problem tables (if a student were consistently incorrectly answering one times table wrong) were highlighted during 1 on 1 time after each quiz. And once a student had finished every level, they were permitted to begin doing other math sheets left at the back of the classroom during the quiz period.