The New York State United Teachers urged the state education department to slow down the rush to testing the Common Core because neither students nor teachers are ready.

NYSUT says: Don’t test what hasn’t been taught.

Sounds sensible.

But this is the strange thing.

Open the link. Look at the old math problem. Look at the Common Core problem.

What do you think?

I understand the old version. The new one–the Common Core example–doesn’t make sense.

Is that just me?

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It’s useful, of course, to give kids experience disregarding the irrelevancies (e.g., the type of pizza eaten, the extraordinary amounts consumed). You want kids to recognize that all that matters is the fractions of pizza consumed and conversion of those to ones with common denominators so that they can be added. However, one questions the wisdom of having kids be forced to ignore a lot of irrelevant detail in every question, as a standard procedure, in a timed test.

As a practical matter, of course, the test makers will do what they have always done.

They will adjust the questions, throwing out the difficult ones until people get the scores they want over time. Continuous improvement magic, but not magical enough to obviate having to buy lots of nice new shiny curricula to address those deficits that the tests are revealing.

The common core problem turns a math problem into a reading question. A kid who can do the math might then struggle because his/her reading is not as strong. That is not a true evaluation of the student’s math ability.

Luis ate 5/8 of the cheese pizza and 4/8 (1/2) of the mushroom pizza. Tito ate 2/8 + 3/8 + 4/8 of various pizzas. So they each ate 9/8 or 1 and 1/8 pizzas, i.e., the same amount. What seems to not make sense is that no one speak sor writes English this way. You would never say Jane bought 2 blouses, Jane bought 3 skirts and Jane bought a necklace. You’d say Jane bought 2 blouses, 3 skirts and a necklace. So the wording is unnatural and therefore, confusing. Also why would one person eat so many different slices of pizza? Of course, you’re not supposed to think of it as a real world example although the writers of the test have gone to some lengths to make it a real world example. Just not our real world. Maybe some parallel real world.

About time NYSUT grew a set, but I fear too little, too late, the Union should have been screaming a year ago. The horse has been chasing the cart for a long time, I think he’s too tired to get back in front.

As for the CCS math problem, let me preface by saying I teach 5th grade in NY state, and I’ve seen this one before. They both eat 1 1/8 slices. Easy for me to figure out (sort of).

As to giving this to anybody but the highest achieving students, it’s a waste. As I solved the problem I transposed 2 different fractions. I had to go back and check and recheck.

This math problem is language intensive requiring students to have adequate reading skills to solve. This is 6th grade math at the least. Maybe I’m just an old dog who doesn’t want to learn new tricks, but I don’t believe the majority of my kids are cognitively ready to solve it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Ah yes, let’s test students’ “mathmetical reasoning”…puhleaze, as Nittany said, it’s not a math test it’s a reading/writing test. Good math students often solve problems without being able to exactly explain how they solved the problem. If the good math student isn’t also a great reader/writer their score suffers. Anyone think this kind of problem makes a student like math? Mine don’t.

The answer choices are distracting, especially the inclusuion of the clause, “because Luis did not eat any pepperoni pizza.” A student could respond correctly to the fallacy in the logic of this clause and could argue, correctly, that no “mathematical thinking” was required, and still get the question wrong. The ironic part is that explaining the fallacy of logic requires perhaps more sophisticated thinking than does the mere calculation of how much pizza each boy consumed.

Diane…I am a math teacher in the North Rockland Central School District in Rockland County, NY…in my opinion, as I have been teaching for 27 years, the NYS Math Test Draft that is associated supposedly with the Common Core Standards, is developmentally inappropriate for the most part across all grade levels. When I look at the sample questions I envision a student making an attempt, but eventual frustration will quickly set in. This just verifies in my mind that all of this is not about the kids or improving education… it is clearly about giving appearances of public school failures. In addition, to note, last year (March 2012)we received letters from the NYS Education Department that for grades 7 and 8 calculators could be used throughout all booklets on the test…curriculum was written that Spring and Summer reflecting that directive…the last week of November 2012 we received another letter from SED that calculators can not be used for part of the exam ( multiple choice)…while I feel that the students need mental computation skills, to change course in the middle of a school year causes some problems with a pre- written and mind you hourly paid for curriculums. The last week of November I took the liberty of forwarding the link the of the test drafts to the parents of my students…the replies from parents were interesting…”this is all a witch hunt “, “the questions on the 7th grade test are reminiscent of 9th grade tests “, “will there be a lot of extra help because lord knows they’ll need it” and it went on in that vain. Oh btw… let me tell you about this Race to the Top(of the money tree)…for the past two years and now this year will be the third…my district has had a budgeted expenditure amounting to $1,000,000 per year( it will probably be the same for the 4th year too) towards RTTT…guess what the prize is from the federal government towards meeting these mandates…$239,000 over four years…how did we get so lucky. I am also the Secretary of the North Rockland Teachers’ Association and that role allows me to have many interactions with teachers across grades levels…and what I am hearing is that teachers are stressed out about these exams and the use of them towards their yearly evaluations…some are on the other end of that spectrum …as they feel that what is the point, they have no control over the appropriateness of the tests so they are teaching and working with students to meet goals that are developmentally attainable and they will worry about the scores when it comes…so it’s either be in a frenzy or avoid the situation…either way teachers are feeling beat up and are hoping that things will change because it just does not seem sustainable…but any reasonable person knows that we are very visible targets and that in the name of profits for corporations we have become the scapegoats.

Regards,

Lauren Schimko

Kowtows

It is written in a very confusing manner. surely they want students to convert everything to 1/8′s and then add & compare.

The new version requires more text engagement than the old version. The core concept of recognizing fraction addition with common denominators doesn’t change–just a more involved word description to be translated into a number sentence. Therefore, I kind of think its you although the new version is a bit tedious.

Et tu Brute’! Seriously Brutus, are you teaching 10 year olds?

Actually, no. I only have taught middle and high school math. If you are saying that this kind of question is inappropriate for a 10 year old or a 5th grader then I would agree. I guess what I meant was that representation of numbers is an important skill and needs to be developed over time for it to be assimilated. I am most assuredly against the proliferation of standardized testing, and specifically Common Core, and am probably going to opt my 8th grader out of our state wide CMT in March, if they let me.

Thanks Brutus. I understand the difference in questioning, and the subsequent involved reasoning involved. Problem is, I have kids coming to me that don’t know 7 x 8 = 56.

Then you deserve double your salary!

Is it a question that could be used to uncover children’s understanding of fractions, or is this an assessment of students’ ability to sit still, read carefully, and write clearly? The question itself is not problematic if it were to be used in a classroom setting in which explanation and justification were normative. Because there is likely to be a wide range of answers and reasons for those answers, this question might be useful for engaging students in rich classroom discourse. A teacher leading that discussion would be able to not only figure out who was having difficulty interpreting the text, but also figure out the children’s mathematical understanding based on the classroom discourse. Hence, it might be a really good assessment item that would provide the teacher with a great deal of information if used in a classroom setting by a qualified teacher.

The problem is that questions such as this one will be used on a high-stakes test. In that setting, an incorrect answer may not have anything to do with the child’s mathematical understanding. Let’s suppose that the entire test consisted of questions such as this one. This item would not be useful in assessing the students’ MATHEMATICAL understanding about fractions, because the students’ answers to the task depends on the students’ ability to interpret text and to write a written explanation as well as the mathematics. Thus, the item might not be assessing mathematics. While the item fails on validity, that is still not the problem. The problem is that those invalid scores will then be used to evaluate our students, their teachers, and our schools.

Diana, you are very eloquent, and spot on.

Nitany89 is exactly right. A student who knows how to add/compare fractions can get this problem wrong if their reading level is not on grade level. The real question is, what knowledge or skills are they trying to measure by asking this question?

Looked at it yesterday and just shook my head. Neither one of my reading disabled granddaughters would be able to figure out what is being asked, let alone determine all the processes that might have to be used. Why do we insist on such mean-spiritedness directed at our children?? Good tests should not be intentionally designed to confuse children. Nothing fair about this but what do we expect when one of last years’ assessment dealt with purple pineapples?!?!?!

Dorothy, it’s all about money. After sufficient complaints pile up, the test makers will adjust, and you’ll see a spike in scores in the next 3 years. MY goodness, the kids are getting smarter!

I had to use my fingers to figure that one out. My first reading had the information going back and forth between Tito and Luis. The problem was so poorly written that is was misleading, and I’m guessing that it was written that way on purpose. What sadistic imbeciles wrote and approved it?

Tying a teacher’s evaluation to this type of question is only fair if the very same teachers whose livelihoods are at stake because of such nonsense can negotiate the details of the employment contracts (and the renewal of such) of the test-makers. In that case, I wonder what grade they would get and if they would be keeping their jobs?

So now we’re ‘super sizing’ our math problems in more way than one. Great model for kids, eating 5/8ths of a pizza. In NY that’s a lot, just don’t order the super sized drink too.

Last week we were shown a “common core” problem our students might get. It was a joke! They showed a video of people swimming with their speed listed next to them, changing as they swam. The kids had to read the confusing word problem and answer the question based on the video. It was funny because most of us said many of them would sit there and play with the video.

I have another question. If each child is different, and works at their own pace, why are we timing them? I despise standardized testing!

Who are these people who keep telling us that kids of a certain age are supposed to know certain skills? I keep having this argument with our district’s math coordinator. Just because the Common Core or a publisher says my second-graders should be able to do something doesn’t make it so. We recently changed the number of timed facts kids must get correct in 2 minutes (yes, we give timed math fact tests in second-grade. Actually, we start in first or even kindergarten!) The result is that half of my class can not pass the first grade timed tests to move on to the second grade tests and we are halfway through the school year. At some point we must acknowledge the fact that we can only expect so much from our students before the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

While I am no fan of the CCS, I don’t think the second question is all that difficult, if the students have been taught strategies for solving such problems. Really, what the CCS question is testing for is whether students have a process for solving what is a real world type problem. (Assuming that no sane adult is monitoring the two kids’ awful dietary choices; but maybe they are in college & we should be grateful they are eating food along with the beer they are drinking.)

The process for solving the second problem is straightforward. Just write the two names side by side, draw a line under them & a line between them; then list the portions of pizza each one ate, add up the totals, and you have the answer. Basically, it’s like scoring a game. And fifth graders can easily score games — as long as they know that is what they are doing.

The math skill in both questions is adding fractions. However, there are some crucial differences between the two questions — which gets me to my biggest gripe with the move to CCS. My gripe is that CCS seems to be crowding the arts (integrated into core subjects, as well as subjects on their own) out of schools.

What does arts education have to do with this math problem? For one thing , the design of the first question is one of the reasons it is so much easier to answer. My guess is that many of you, like many kids, looked at the amounts of sugar side by side and got the answer almost without thinking, helped greatly by the graphic design of the problem. This means that students with limited English/reading skills are going to be at less of a disadvantage with this question. (My husband, who is an economics professor, regularly sees foreign students who have very high scores on the math part of the GREs, while their verbal scores are dreadful. Clearly, they answered the math questions well even though they couldn’t read the words, probably relying on the graphic arrangement of the words and numbers on math part of the test.)

The second question, though, not only does not give students visual clues to find the answer. It actually requires the students to design a format in which to arrange the information they need in order to solve the problem. In other words, the second question tests not only math, but reading, reasoning and design skills as well.

There is nothing wrong with that per se. We want students to learn how to think through complex problems, come up with innovative solutions, and perform other “21st century employee” type things. So children should learn to represent problems in different ways: words, diagrams, models, movements, etc. But the best way to teach these skills is through the arts, which is why it is so foolish to be cutting back on arts education now.

What I find so frustrating about CCS is not the stated goals; I think a child should be able to answer the second question, and to do it in fifth grade. But it seems to me that the CCS proponents want to depend on very narrow, verbal-centric ways of teaching the “deep understanding” that they advocate.

Having the kids do some dramatic activities, or write stories with pictures of the two boys eating pizza are both effective ways to teach the reasoning needed to answer the second test question. Yet, from what I’ve seen and read, it seems to me that the CCS-recommended method would be to lecture or have kids “read closely” deriving meaning from the text. It’s as if the standards, the curriculum maps, the scope & sequence documents, and all the rest of the vast amount of materials to support the standards are being written by particularly unimaginative English professors — who, for incomprehensible reasons, don’t like reading literature as much as they like reading government regulations.

Just returned today from “network team training” in Albany. Math sessions were again unorganized though not as horrific as with Andrew Chen in November. Still no concrete problems, but “just deal with it.” At one of the sessions one of the state Ed talking heads showed both condescension and surprise that teachers wrote Regents exams. I did not know that said she. This is NOT about educating students; it is about destroying a system and lining pockets and resumes. I feel like I’m in Alabama. Oh, wait, they just abolished the common core!

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