Factors for Student Achievement

I saw a nice article (from the March 23, 2010 Hechinger Report) that is ultimately about factors that impact student achievement in math. after noting that “Among the top-performing countries, no pattern in pedagogy emerges. There is, in fact, wide variety in mathematics teaching practices worldwide,” the report goes on to identify three issues that impact student achievement in math.

First, curriculum. This is a symptom of well-intentioned standards that make teachers and administrators feel lie they have to teach everything, every year, or the kids just won’t learn. Included in the article is this table, comparing grade 3 assessments:

Assuming (safely) that the assessment is reflective of the intended curriculum, it is easy to see why curriculum plays a role in student learning.

Second, assessment. Not the summative assessments that are still so prevalent in classrooms, or the faux-formative assessments that teachers (including me) use to help them feel better about themselves. It’s about real, ongoing, meaningful contextual assessment that informs instruction and helps all kids learn. The article specifically points to the overuse of multiple-choice assessments, popular because they are easy to score but notoriously bad at providing information about the process students use to solve the problem.

Third, teachers. This part of the article took me back an earlier post that addressed some of the problems with the way we do business. The report notes that, “It’s no secret that American elementary and middle school teachers often have weak math skills,” and then goes on to cite Deborah Ball’s comment: “This is to be expected because most teachers – like most other adults in this country – are graduates of the very system that we seek to improve.”

Improving math education for all students remains a work in progress. When we realize that these factors, among others, are all part of the big picture, then we can begin to work toward the improvement we need.


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