**Update: The Math Report is now available on the ARPS website (4 pm Monday).**

## My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

## Monday, November 8, 2010

### Math Review Presentation

Dr. Andrew Chen will attend the Regional School Committee meeting tomorrow, Tuesday November 9th, at 7 pm in Town Hall to present his findings about math in the Amherst and Regional schools. This item is scheduled quite early on the agenda, and I'm certain he will be willing to respond to questions. The full report has been received by the administration and the School Committee, and will be posted later today on the ARPS website. Please read the report and attend the meeting (or watch it live on ACTV) to hear Dr. Chen's recommendations involving math in our schools. There is also a brief piece in last week's Bulletin about the math review (http://amherstbulletin.com/story/id/188122/).

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## 60 comments:

I read Dr. Chen's report and am SO impressed. I think all of his recommendations are right on. I hope they are all implemented asap!!

These are some highlights I cut and pasted from the report:

Strengths:

It is immediately apparent that ARPS is endowed with a dedicated staff—teachers and administrators alike. In mathematics, the support services and intervention structures are well in place and should be commended

Weaknesses:

In most cases, the math program did actively engage students but failed to challenge most students. Low mathematics learning was observed in most elementary classrooms visited. Pelham teachers in upper grades use an eclectic approach in assembling curriculum material and in classroom interaction. Student learning appeared to be better.

Recommendations:

Let better mathematics teachers in elementary schools teach more mathematics classes. This focused approach will allow teachers strong in mathematics to impact more math students and free up other teachers so they can have more time to prepare and teach non-math subjects better. There is a strong national movement in this direction.

Replace Investigations II with Primary Mathematics (Standards Edition, from Singapore) for grades K-5…

• More rigorous—no repetition from year to year

• Faster paced

• Higher mathematics density

Support teachers of mathematics in elementary schools and the Middle school with intensive content training. It is crucial to know that upgrading the textbook alone is helpful but not enough. To produce dramatic improvement in student learning, this recommendation must be followed.

Elementary and middle school teachers should be trained in mathematics content that is at least 2-3 grades higher than what they teach

…courses for teachers should be content-driven, not pedagogy-driven. Courses centered around understanding student work, which may touch upon some content, are considered pedagogy-driven. The content support should be ongoing since it takes time and sustained effort to acquire solid content knowledge. This recommendation is the most substantial of all, in terms of its duration, funds required and commitment

…ARPS is advised to take proactive measures to recognize and nurture STEM talents...

Acceleration structures and policies, including those across grade spans, should be made clear. This is a crisis-resolution item on the nation agenda; it is not elitism

All-encompassing recommendations that instruction should be entirely “student centered” or “teacher directed” are not supported by research. If such recommendations exist, they should be rescinded. If they are being considered, they should be avoided.

___________________________________

Well, what I take from all of this, is that finally someone is paying attention to what some of us have been saying for years -- too much repetition in elementary math and it needs to be more rigorous.

Math courses should be CONTENT driven, not pedagogy-driven...well there it is, said in black and white!

And lastly, my personal favorite:acceleration in math courses should be made clear, including those across grades...this is not elitism!

I am also impressed with many elements of Dr. Chen's report, particularly the need for more teacher training in math learning, and building a collaborative effort across grades. The two elements I found missing were more in-depth recommendations about working with a diverse range of learners, and more about the impact of language skill in math learning, both of which are very important in Amherst's context.

Finally,so everyone understands, the curriculum he suggests replacing Investigations with has been found by the What Works Clearinghouse to have a research base NO MORE VALID than Investigations; there were 12 studies published between 1983 and 2008 about Singapore Math cited in the report, none of which passed the Clearinghouse's research validity standards. The link: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/wwc_singaporemath_042809.pdf

It is a Middle School-oriented report, but if you look at the analysis it provides and read the other links the site has to Primary mathematics, it is the same refrain.

That said, balancing concept learning and skills, and emphasizing rigorous problem solving, are the hallmarks of any good math instruction, no matter the program, and Singapore Math certainly models itself on that "tripod" of solid math instruction.

Singapore math has been used in some of the best public school districts in the country with amazing results. There's a reason why Singapore itself has the best math scores on the planet! I have a friend whose kids go to a district that uses Singapore math and she said it involves a great deal of critical thinking and serves kids at all ends of the spectrum. I'm very excited about Dr. Chen's recommendation.

Is this his final report? Or is this just a draft or an installment?

I find the conspicuous absence of

anyevaluation of the MS math program (in particular extensions) disturbing. I went to two parent/guardian meetings with Dr. Chen and the MS math program was found lacking by as many participants as the ES math program. Given how unusual our MS math program is, I find it very concerning that an evaluation of it is entirely absent. I recall hearing Mike Hayes state that he would request that the Math review expressly evaluate the MS math program. I hope more is on the way...Anon 9:07, I am glad you are so excited about the SM program recommendation. However, I want to correct a couple of points you made, or at least offer a broader perspective. The What Works Clearinghouse is the major arbiter of research validity in the field. Studies have to have sufficient design integrity, measure results correctly, meausre results across all demographic groups, and the results replicated in other places. Until a program can demonstrate that level of "data robustness," they cannot make special claims, nor can we just assume that what "meets the eye" is in fact an appropriate connection. I am certain the Catherine would agree with this statement. It is not suprising that that while many programs and methodoligies make all kinds of claims, VERY, VERY, VERY few things have passed the validity standards of the WWC. There are simply too many variables involved in education. For example, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "best districts," but in Massachusetts, as in every state, the "best performing" districts can be actually sorted high to low pretty much according to parent median income, and there are a great many programs used in those districts across the country. So one can not simply connect the use of SM (or any program) as the major link to high scores in a district where high scores would be the rule and not the exception.

Second, Singapore does not have the "highest scores on the planet." I actually ended up doing some research along these lines for my book. It does have high scores when compared in the TIMSS studies (the international country comparisons in math and science), BUT--there are demographic factors which would predict very high scores as the norm: 1) it is fairly homogeneous society, and the upper range of TIMSS-scoring countries tend to be more homogeneous rather than more heterogeneous demographically; and 2) Chinese students score high in mathematics everywhere, for linguistic and cultural reasons, whether they use Signapore Math or some other program, and whether they are in China, Taiwan, Singapore, the US or elsewhere. There are other factors involved as well. So without a deep analysis, one cannot make the connection of SM to Singapore's scores as the primary link. Finally regarding TIMSS, in the last study (I think 2 years ago), the highest scoring or close to the highest scoring 4th graders were...drum roll please...Massachusetts 4th graders! Massachusetts and Minnesota asked for and received permission to have their states' data disaggregated from the US data. And what math program is used in Massachusetts' school districts FAR more commonly than SM? Drum roll...Investigations!

However, I will not make the case that Investigations is a major contribtor to those scores, in the same way that I encourage us not to "guess" about SM, either. The major factor that more and more educational research is concluding as most important, is appropriate teacher training and support in knowledge of students, and knowledge of content.

Beleaguered Tax Payer Writes:

I'm all for more training of teachers to make sure they can be the best possible Math instructors.

BUT, let's not spend a dime on this beyond perhaps an outside instructor. I'm frankly sick and tired of hearing that our teachers are the best and most dedicated people in the world and then hearing that they have to be paid "professional development" money to learn how to do their jobs properly.

If you read some of the Chen report, it's saying that many of our teachers don't know enough Math and that's a disturbing finding.

Let's bring in some people to teach them the Math -- not pedagogy -- over the summer and have the teachers come in without extra pay and learn this stuff.

Or, the teachers could take summer Math at UMass or Westfield State. I don't think it would be unreasonable for the town to help with tuition for classes taken in a Math dept.

That's how the rest of the population keeps up with their fields -- without extra pay to do so -- and the teachers are blessed with plenty of time off in the summer.

In other words, let's not pay extra to teachers because they at present aren't capable of teaching Math at the appropriate level. We should pay for Math teachers to come to Amherst or pay tuition for our teachers to take Math classes, but no more professional development money. It's a way of rewarding poor performance.

I'm sure the majority of our teachers are dedicated enough to do this. Those who won't without extra pay aren't worthy of our respect.

Anon 9:02 said "That's how the rest of the population keeps up with their fields -- without extra pay to do so -- "

I don't know what experience you have with professionals in other fields keeping up with developments in their fields. But the accounants, lawyers and doctors that I know all take time off from work to attend workshops or classes to keep up with their field. And this is time that they take off from their 9-5 work day. So, let's afford the teachers the same opportunity. Why should they be forced to do this on their own time.

Anon 9:02 also said, "I'm sure the majority of our teachers are dedicated enough to do this. Those who won't without extra pay aren't worthy of our respect."

You, Anon 9:02, clearly have no respect for the profession of teaching any way. So why would any teacher want to follow your advice to "gain" your respect.

I am not a teacher, but if I were I would not care whether I had your respect or not.

I think Dr. Chen's recommendation was to use in-house math expertise, i.e., high school teachers and expert math teachers in the elementary schools to teach other teachers and help the schools link up to each other. Good idea for all subjects.

Do other professionals received EXTRA pay to keep up with their fields? When a lawyer or doctor takes time off, he or she often is forgoing income to do so. Those who work for big corporations aren't paid EXTRA, they are required to get done the existing work in other hours from those devoted to professional development. That is how the rest of the world works.

Teachers don't teach in the summer, but the ones I know who do professional development work during the summer receive PAY for that.

So, people on fixed incomes are paying more in property taxes for raises for teachers. Okay, that happened. But why should those same teachers receive EXTRA pay for learning how to teach something they should already know how to teach?

Put another way, a teacher who doesn't know Math well will make more than a teacher who does, because the teacher who knows his/her Math won't get the PAY from the professional development days in the summer.

In the current system we end up rewarding those people who are less good at their jobs than their colleagues.

Does that make sense?

Abbie 11:06, thanks for pointing out that Dr. Chen's report makes little to no mention about the middle school math program. I understand that 7th grade math is in a "trial" period right now with the old-version of "extensions" built in to class/homework, so ALL students are expected to do them. The administration said, that those who were not capable of this, would be worked with on an individual basis. This is far better than the old system where everyone was doing regular classwork, and those students who wanted to distinguish themselves were assigned the extensions to do at home. What 7th grader of his/her own accord would want to do ADDITIONAL work? It was different work (which is what differentiated curriculum should be), but extra work, once the regular work was completed.

We were hoping that this new model with high expections and honors-level work for all would continue through the year.

But, Dr. Chen did not comment on it at all in this report? What will the MS administration do without this objective feedback?

to 9:02- I see it's sweeping generalization time. As a matter of fact I do get extra pay to keep up with my field. I'm a medical professional and all of my CME's are paid for ( tuition, travel, per diem) and so by the way are all are my licenses. This is common practice.

To Anon 12:32:

Do you receive extra salary for professional development?

In Amherst, a teacher will be PAID A SALARY for a day spent in the summer doing professional development.

I have no problem paying their tuition for Math classes at a local college (no need to pay a per diem or travel). But, no one I know of receives EXTRA SALARY for professional development.

Do you receive EXTRA SALARY?

There is a huge difference between having work expenses reimbursed and getting "extra pay."

Also, there's another huge difference between people learning of new developments in a field and people learning what they should already know. This isn't about a new curriculum. Dr. Chen has stated to various people that he was uncomfortable with the level of Math knowledge among Amherst teachers.

That's not keeping up, that's catching up, which makes paying extra salary even worse.

Anon 12:32, I don't think you're getting the point. When you, a medical professional, do it, it's keeping up with your field. When a teaching professional does it, it's "getting paid for what he should already know." Though I do scratch my head a bit, because I never got paid extra for all the keeping up with my field--oops, I mean, learning what I already should have known--I did summers, unless it was grant-funded (in which case, Mr. Angry-at-Teachers wouldn't have "paid" for it). I did get tuition reimbursements a couple of times, but that's hardly getting "paid extra." So--I WAS CHEATED!! Where's my money!?!

When you, a medical professional, do it, it's keeping up with your field. When a teaching professional does it, it's "getting paid for what he should already know."No. There is a big difference between learning what you should have known before you started and learning *NEW* stuff to "keep up with your field."

Well said Ed, Right on as always.

How do you know, Ed, what I should or should not have already known as a teaching professional, at any given point in time? This whole thread is silly.

Bingo Ed.

Gee, how can we process Dr. Chen's report so that we can blame his findings on Catherine? Hmmm......let me see.

"After all, there is no objective reality in our schools, simply perceptions created by those damned trouble-making School Committee members.

"Dr. Chen wouldn't have spotted these problems about math instruction if teacher morale hadn't been destroyed by this School Committee."

Yeah, that's the ticket....we'll go with that.

There is one other troubling issue -- some 74% of teacher applicants flunked the elementary math part of the MTEL last year. That means that 74% of those the year before would have flunked it too, etc.

From this one can reasonably conclude that there are some serious issues with K-8 teachers and math ability. And from that, we can conclude in Amherst that.....

Heaven forbid that someone who hasn't lived in town for 25 years be permitted to speak. And you wonder why UM students riot????

Oops....another trip outside the echo chamber of our self-congratulation about our schools.

Blasted outsiders coming in and bursting our bubble.

Passing Town Meeting resolutions instructing our federal government, now that's fun. Honest self-assessment of our own public institutions, including our schools, now that really sucks.

Anon 1045 - Thank you for your comments. That's the way to move the conversation forward!!

Just a reminder to ALL: the blog is most useful, to me and others, when there is respectful discourse. I know there is a temptation to write snarky things when one is safely anonymous ... but that really isn't the point of my allowing anonymous commenting. Please, on all sides, lets try to post as if people DID know your name, and lets try to be respectful. This is a crucial time in the Amherst schools, and I believe we all benefit from having respectful, serious discussion of key issues.

Who (SC or Superintendent) makes the decision as to which of Dr. Chen's recommendations will or will not be put into place? Who decides how they will be put into place?

Who gets to make the decision 1) whether to adopt a new curriculum and 2) what that is and 3) the timeframe of adopting a new curriculum?

I thought the math report was a good honest report (with the exception of the missing MS piece that Abbie brought up). I felt that Dr. Chen showed he understood the community by writing "In a community characterized by its unique almost bimodal socio-economic demographics, the parallel pursuit of equity and excellence is a difficult balancing challenge for ARPS."

I have a really hard time with folks like Steve continuing to dismiss Amherst's MCAS data because there might be other variables influencing scores like Kumon etc. Or that given our population we should just expect that SAT scores should be high or that our students should be going to elite colleges. Please. Kumon has a center - guess where - in NEWTON, and Brookline and Cambridge. So I guess we should just throw out their test scores as well. And SAT scores- how many kids from affluent homes in these communities haven't had some sort of SAT test prep? Let's discount those scores too. Wellesley/Brookline- lots of highly educated parents there- let's not use the college attendance data from those places either.

Dr. Chen's report gave mixed reviews as I expected.

I think it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds given that there was no resounding denunciation of the MS math program, that he had good things to say about implementation of IMP and that he is recommending the adoption of a curriculum has not been proven effective by the standards espoused by some SC members and that is not implemented at any of our comparison districts (thus making Amherst UNIQUE if we adopt it.

Let the data cherrypicking begin!

It was pretty clear from Ms. Graham's presentation last night that her conclusion is that since Amherst 'catches-up' in 10 grade MCAS that we are doing (mostly) alright, and I believe that Ken shares a similar view. But what struck me when many districts are included in a 3-10th MCAS analysis is that ALL districts catch-up, eg there are years where nearly every district shows *enormous* gains, most conspicuous in 10th grade. What that tells me is that there are years, ie 10th grade, where the test is really easy- a ceiling effect (and it is clear there are years where it is hard, nearly all districts drop)! I hope that she thinks more clearly about the data before patting the district on the back. I think there is some important data there but I don't think Ms. Graham recognized them and I also don't think she understands the limitations of using MCAS scores alone and Steve spoke to this issue, we will see if anyone in the Administration can understand the importance.

A response to Ed:

You mention statistics about test scores for ELEMENTARY teachers, but then you conclude that there "are serious problems with K-8 teachers and math ability".

Since Dr Chen also used the phrase "elementary and middle school teacher" together in his recommendation about improving content knowledge I wanted to chime in.

If anyone (Dr Chen perhaps should have?) took the time to look, you would see extremely high credentials in the middle school staff, reflecting strong content knowledge and, in many cases, experience already teaching at higher levels. Not to mention MTEL scores to be proud of.

I know there are many other things to talk about, but it is bothering me to see questions about the content knowlege of middle school teachers being lumped in there when that, at least, is a non-issue.

Ed,

Can you post the link about 74% of teachers failing the MTEL test? I'd like to look at the data myself.

And what is the MTEL test? (What is it testing for?)

Thank you!

Dear Sam I Am, let me take a stab at what Dr. Chen said last night about this. (Others, please correct me, if needed.)

At the meeting, Dr. Chen clarified the report's line about content knowledge and the middle school and elementary teachers. It did look to me that the report was saying that teachers didn't know the math they were teaching. At the meeting he said that he did not mean this.

Dr. Chen clarified, saying that all teachers need to know, really well, the math being taught 2-3 grades ahead. Partly because elementary teachers are asked to move to different grades and partly to recognize and be able to effectively deal with advanced kids. So that would mean middle school teachers would need to know the geometry, algebra I and II and trigonometry and maybe even the calculus curriculum. A first grade teacher would need to know the 2nd, 3rd and 4tth grade math curriculum. Dr. Chen suggested the high school teachers do this deep content teaching -- and they would reap the benefits of working with and understanding elementary and middle school teachers and program. This collaborations would help knit together our loosely affiliated schools and teachers.

Janet McGowan

Abbie:

I think you have way over-simplifed Dr. Graham's presentation. Interested folks should watch the meeting on TV or on the ACTV website and not take Abbie's interpretation of Dr. Graham's presentation at face value.

What I believe, Abby, is that data should be contextualized and looked at year-by-year, ss well as the same cohort of students across grades, because students do come into our schools with VERY different levels of readiness. This is exactly what DESE wants us to do with MCAS data. That informs my further thinking about how we should think about different groups of learners. I DON'T blindly pat the district on the back because we still churn out unequal levels of achievement (as most everywhere else does) even in 10th, and the district should not rest until the gap closes, which really is a K-12 shared, "value added" perspective on what schooling should be for initially struggling learners. But to evaluate our schools, I DO have to look at how similar populations do elsewhere in the state. In that sense, we have been doing well, in many cases quite well. And for that, we should acknowledge it and SHOULD pat ourselves on the back--but only one or two pats, because then it's time to get back to working on the achievement gap that has not closed for our students.

ps--Ed, how do you know what I should have, or should not have, known about my field, at any point in time?

---

I think we should fire Dr. Chen, the same way we fired the last guy, what was his name? Dr. Rodriguez? Remember him? For making the exactly the same recommendations. Just fire him. That will make it all go away. Why would we want all of our students arriving at the Middle School evenly prepared, anyway? We have SpEd for that, paid for off-contract.

You know what my pet peeve is? When people have nothing to contribute, all they can think is to complain about teacher's pay. At an average teacher's salary of $39,628, the average Amherst teacher with a family of 2 automatically qualifies for heat assistance. There's an idea -- let's pay them less and let the state make up the difference, through heat assistance.

My guess is, any of our teachers could get a job in Connecticut (avg. teacher's pay $57,760) and pick up an extra $18k over Amherst just by commuting 35 miles. As someone said, if I was in it for the money, I would be doing something else.

Still mad about teachers' pay? Get a life.

May I offer four suggestions:

1) This raises a good point. Teacher's pay, including Staff Development, is a contractual matter. How would you make this work under the existing contract?

It is a well-kept secret that a college education has a 2-year half-life, teachers included. So, every couple years, let them sit down and take a math test. Forget pedagogy, a math test. Math is full of twisty corners, call it a driver’s test. Zoom, zoom, zoom.

As Dr. Chen pointed out, Math hasn't changed that much, not in the last 2,500 years. Let's get the math learning DVD set, keep it in the library, and every couple years, ask our teachers to take a test, for their own self-satisfaction. They don't even have to pass it. Let them use it to fulfill their Staff Development requirement. All for the price of a set of DVD’s. Let’s create a math culture -- everyone takes the test, for fun, just to see where you are at.

2) What I heard Dr. Chen say is a critical success factor to children's success in math (if not the distinguishing factor among SES groups) is parent involvement. And parents want to know what they can do to help. My suggestion is, if you want to help, you might sit down next you child and do your own homework, what they got that day, alongside them, and ask them for help. Let them teach you. Watch the difference. Are you as smart as your third grader? Find out.

3) What I really liked was, Dr. Chen was very positive. He clearly said that we can do this ourselves, with the people we've got. Just turn them loose. Seems like more of a scheduling problem than anything.

And 4) re: a new set of books, which we knew we needed anyway. Let me remind you that whatever set we buy is up to the educators, not to the School Committee, not to the public, and, especially, not to the blog-o-sphere. This is not a subject for a public forum. We got good people, let them do their jobs, please. If you get a set of books and no one uses them, then what did that accomplish? What if no one wants to use a book called “Singapore”, then what? In business we say, if you want them to buy-in, it has to come from within.

Finally, may I suggest, Catherine, that the next time you get a report without time to read it, move to table. On the spot, before anyone can say a word, bang, Motion to table. The message will not be lost. If you do that just once, it will make your life a whole lot easier. I can’t wait to see their faces. You could slam your fist on the table, that would be fun.

You go, girl.

---

Hi Ken,

I think that what you suggest is to look at individual growth (year to year) suggested by Steve last night (he also suggested to look at information in addition to MCAS). These are good things. It seemed to me that the initial administration's (and some SC members) response was that was too much work and questioned its worthiness. But I think that if you just look at our school's MCAS without comparing to others, you can't appreciate how the relative difficulty of the test each year contributes to the line. I thought that was one of the most enlightening piece of information I learned last night from Beth Graham's presentation. It is clear that some year's MCAS are easy and in others it is hard. Because the 10th grade MCAS is apparently *really* easy, we might as well throw out that data point.

---

I think we should fire Dr. Chen, the same way we fired the last guy, what was his name? Dr. Rodriguez? Remember him? For making the exactly the same recommendations. Just fire him. That will make it all go away. Why would we want all of our students arriving at the Middle School evenly prepared, anyway? We have SpEd for that, paid for off-contract.

You know what my pet peeve is? When people have nothing to contribute, all they can think is to complain about teacher's pay. At an average teacher's salary of $39,628, the average Amherst teacher with a family of 2 automatically qualifies for heat assistance. There's an idea -- let's pay them less and let the state make up the difference, through heat assistance.

My guess is, any of our teachers could get a job in Connecticut (avg. teacher's pay $57,760) and pick up an extra $18k over Amherst just by commuting 35 miles. As someone said, if I was in it for the money, I would be doing something else.

Still mad about teachers' pay? Get a life.

May I offer four suggestions:

1) This raises a good point. Teacher's pay, including Staff Development, is a contractual matter. How would you make this work under the existing contract?

It is a well-kept secret that a college education has a 2-year half-life, teachers included. So, every couple years, let them sit down and take a math test. Forget pedagogy, a math test. Math is full of twisty corners, call is a driver’s test.

As Dr. Chen pointed out, Math hasn't changed that much, not in the last 2,500 years. Let's get the math learning DVD set, keep it in the library, and every couple years, ask our teachers to take a test, for their own self-satisfaction. They don't even have to pass it. Let them use it to fulfill their Staff Development requirement. All for the price of a set of DVD’s. This is not a crisis.

2) What I heard Dr. Chen say is a critical success factor to children's success in math (if not the distinguishing factor among SES groups) is parent involvement. And parents want to know what they can do to help. My suggestion is, if you want to help, you might sit down next you child and do your own homework, what they got that day, alongside them, and ask them for help. Let them teach you. Watch the difference. Are you as smart as your third grader? Find out.

3) Dr, Chen was very positive. He clearly said that we can do this ourselves, with the people we've got. Just turn them loose. Seems like more of a scheduling problem than anything.

And 4) re: a new set of books, which we knew we needed anyway. Let me remind you that whatever set you buy is up to the educators, not to the School Committee, not to the public, and, especially, not to the blog-o-sphere. This is not a subject for a public forum. We got good people, let them do their jobs, please. If you get a set of books and no one uses them, what did that accomplish? In business we say, if you want them to buy-in, it has to come from within.

Finally, may I suggest, Catherine, that the next time you get a report without time to read it, move to table. On the spot, before anyone can say a word, bang, Motion to table. The message will not be lost. If you do that just once, it will make your life a whole lot easier. I can’t wait to see their faces. You could slam your fist on the table, that would be fun.

You go, girl.

---

I'm wondering where the outrage is over Steve Rivkin making a very detailed motion with no heads-up to anyone. Not the chair of the committee, not the Superintendent, not his fellow SC members. There was plenty of outrage when Kristen Luschen made a motion without informing anyone first.

Catherine: Where is your outrage?????

Abbie,

I wasn't at the meeting last night, and don't know what Steve said, so I will have to take your word for the fact that we are basically saying the same thing. It certainly is true, as Beth pointed out, that MCAS strength varies grade to grade--and in fact, while the grade 4 is easy in 5 is hard in 2009, it's the opposite in 2010. But I have pointed out to several times that I have speaking about year-by-year gains for subgroups as they move from 3rd to 6th, and with the exception of one cohort in one year, there has been steady MCAS growth each year for each subgroup, regardless of test difficulty. That is actually NOT the norm across the state (where it's somewhat up and down for all groups), and is one thing I'm surprised I didn't see in Dr. Chen's report (maybe he spoke to it last night?). I believe (and have had confirmation from DESE) that growth over time is at least as important, if not more so,than any score in any particular year.

I hope we can all agree that whatever response the district has to the changes proposed by Dr. Chen are carried out in such a way that the year-by-year growth in all growth is maintained, and in order to close the achievement gap, also accelerated in the lowest performing groups.

2:33- I thought the same thing but I also suspect it was a little payback on his part. Rick Hood did say something about giving folks a heads up.

Anon15: I am fairly certain the average teacher salary in Amherst is quite a bit more than $39,000. I think it was $54,000 last year.

http://www.arps.org/files/cbac/Salaries_031510.pdf

"I thought the same thing but I also suspect it was a little payback on his part."

Doesn't that sound a tad childish..that Steve would need to have a little pay back? :)

Steve and Catherine have rules that apply to them and rules that apply to everyone else. And never the twain shall meet.

---

Staff Development seems to be the issue. Staff Development, like teacher's pay, is a contractual matter. How would you make this work under the existing contract?

It is a well-kept secret that a college education has a 2-year half-life, teachers no less. So, every couple years, let's sit down and take a math test. Forget pedagogy, a math test. With all the twisty corners.

How about getting the math-learning DVD set, keep it in the library where anyone can get it, and every couple years, ask our teachers to take a test, for their own self-satisfaction -- they wouldn't even have to pass it.

And, here's the kicker, let them use it to fulfill their Staff Development requirement. All for the price of a set of DVD’s.

It is more about creating a culture of math success -- parents doing math homework alongside their kids. When they don't understand something, they can ask. Like, the parents can ask the kids. Are you as smart as your third grader? Let your kids teach you. Then, watch what happens.

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A few quick responses:

1. I was disappointed not to see Beth Graham's report prior to the meeting, which has been the practice at SC meetings. I therefore have not had enough of a chance to review it in order to comment. I do believe, as I expressed last night, that we need to rely on more than MCAS, which is a very crude measure. I would have liked to have seen data on % of kids in algebra in 8th grade in various districts, % of kids taking 4 years of math, math SAT scores, etc.

2. I believe Dr. Chen's report was most valuable in his in-depth review of in-class instruction. He is a nationally and internationally known expert on math instruction, so to me, when he says that kids he observed weren't challenged and teachers on the whole didn't have enough content basis in math, I take that seriously. His suggestion that we move to Singapore Math because it would be easier for teachers makes sense to me.

3. I wish Dr. Chen's report had touched on the middle school, which I believe we really need to get some guidance on. There has been parental dissatisfaction with extensions (an approach not used in other districts) and there is a wide gap in terms of income/race/gender in 8th grade algebra. I'd like to know what he thinks are some solutions to this, and it wasn't clear what those were in his report or in his presentation. He did say that he believed Singapore Math would increase math achievement for all kids, which would get them to a higher place in the MS when they arrived.

4. I believe Steve should have sent his motion around ahead of time. However, his motion asked the SC to strongly recommend doing an analysis to figure out whether IMP versus traditional math was better for some kids (and if so, which kids). This isn't a major motion at all in the sense that it is just a request to get some data -- it is hard for me to see how people who be against getting information on who benefits most from a particular math track. I would say that comparing a motion to gather data to learn which kids benefit more from a particular approach to HS math is not even remotely similar to making a motion to hire an interim superintendent permanently without any public comment.

One more thing - this blog is about ideas about education in Amherst, and I'd like those to be expressed freely and openly. Please avoid just making snarky comments about me, Steve, or others so that we can discuss the content of ideas, and not just make accusations.

Dr. Chen's report doesn't appear to deal with equity or achievement for underperforming sub groups of students, especially the ELL and SPED students. He notes that support and intervention is in place and should be continued but doesn't address whether it's effective. Based on the recent MCAS results and trends it appears that the current specialized/individualized curriculum for those students isn't working.

I find the way in which the math review was conducted compared with the SPED review to be both illuminating and disheartening. The math review was open with several opportunities for the community to participate and the results were presented at length to the school committee, administration and the public. The SPED review consisted of an anonymous survey and interviews with the staff/administration. The administration gave a 2 minute summary of the 200 plus page report and 5 months later it has still not been discussed by the school committee and no changes have been implemented. A committee appointed by the administration was formed to "respond" to the issues in the SPED report but it excludes many of the most important stake holders.

I'm all for challenging the most gifted students but lets not leave struggling students even further behind.

Regarding math, one variable is missing in this conversation.

When you go to see a doctor or lawyer, you want someone who knows what law and medicine are about TODAY, not 20 or 10 years ago - why? Because it's constantly changing. Education and curriculum is constantly changing as well.

This is not a matter of what we know vs. what we don't. It's a matter of what we learned (either in school or earlier in our careers) vs. what we're being asked to teach. Investigations is COMPLETELY different than how I (and most of my colleagues) learned math.

How can we be expected to teach something effectively that we don't understand? And how can we gain that understanding without adequate training and PD?

I don't at all feel attacked or defensive about Dr. Chen's report because I agree with him. I'm willing to LEARN to teach anything I have to if it will benefit my students. But if you slap a new curriculum down in my face and say "teach it" and you haven't TAUGHT IT to ME, we're going to be right back in this same spot in 10 years or less.

to anon@3:08

thanks for sharing your perspective as a teacher. I hope that any change in curriculum would be scrutinized carefully. I don't know what Singapore texts look like, or the approach to teaching it. I got the impression (could be entirely wrong) that it has elements of 'reform' math but also has more traditional math (a balance).

I don't entirely discount *everything* that Investigations offers. I think it has weakness and those weakness are sometimes supplemented by teachers (who to my knowledge (please tell me if I am wrong) aren't given the specific materials to supplement). If this is the case then this is where teacher math content knowledge becomes absolutely critical. It also seems that Investigations is way to big (notice the length of the textbook is about equal from the beginning grade to the end). Can you tell me if teachers are given direction as to what exact pages to cover each year? Clearly teachers *have to* leave out material and decide what is important, what guidance is provided?

Frankly, if changing texts becomes a herculean task, then I am not against the idea that at *every* grade teachers are provided the same grade appropriate supplemental materials in order to provide a better curriculum (with lots of guidance of where it fits in with the Investigations curriculum). This would require a huge amount of work. Would this be easier than changing to a curriculum that already has done that (if such exists)?

From Dr. Chen's oral report he seemed to believe that Pelham (grade 5-6?) has supplemented successfully, but then they have only one teacher at each grade, a much more straightforward task.

Again, thanks for your thoughts and I welcome further dialogue...

Abby and Anon,

I'm not sure how long you have been in the district, Anon, but several years ago, Amherst teachers got intensive training in understanding and using Investigations from an outside consultant, and also had in-building math support (at least our building did) who were very highly skilled math teachers. I get the feeling that as new teachers replaced retiring older teachers, neither the intensive training nor the level of in-school teacher/student support remained. No doubt, Investigations can be a "high maintenance" program, and if the training that we got then has been discontinued, then the district dropped the ball. I am completely with you about the need to train teachers, and Amherst is particularly susceptible to the new-fad-every-few-years approach to staff development, which does not adequately support teachers in any one thing.

On a slightly different tangent, as I reread Dr. Chen's report, I realized that a slightly discordant note was the evidence of "low math learning." Maybe things have deteriorated a lot since I was there, but it was not like that in my experience, for the most part. While it is easy to denigrate MCAS and having a test-fixation, it is one of the "gold standard" state tests, far more rigorous than most states. I noted earlier that Massachusetts 4th graders came out at or near the top of the WORLD in the last TIMSS study in 2007. The logic of a district having above-average MCAS scores--whose AVERAGE score correlates to top-of-the-world performance--evidencing consistent "low math learning" in classrooms does not really compute. Does it?

Anon 2:33

"I'm wondering where the outrage is over Steve Rivkin making a very detailed motion with no heads-up to anyone. Not the chair of the committee, not the Superintendent, not his fellow SC members. There was plenty of outrage when Kristen Luschen made a motion without informing anyone first."

All Steve wanted was a comparison of the IMP program with the regular math program. Wouldn't teachers and administration already have this information? Wouldn't they want to know this? Procedurally, did Steve even have to make a motion or can he just request it from the powers that be? My guess is that Steve could work up these numbers faster than anyone--just give him the information! Why does is the constant theme with the District, "no, we couldn't possibly..."

At an average teacher's salary of $39,628OK, it is out there. And perhaps someone (Larry Kelly, are you listening) might want to drop a Sunshine request on the district and determine what the mean, median and modal income are. Not base pay, but what people are getting.

Of course, if you wanted to go down to Connecticut, you would have had to work today as they don't get Veteran's day off -- nor did they get Election day off...

And you also will find your retirement taxed twice -- first by CT as income when they deduct after-tax dollars for your retirement, and then by MA as untaxed money when you are retired. You won't do quite as well in CT as you think you will...

Two other things. As to the middle school, this is a historical legacy like the green light on the right wing of every airplane -- look up and you won't see it because green doesn't show up, but it has to be there.

And this is the split in teacher licensing and the licenses that they have which are either "elementary" or "secondary" and while there is an overlap, anything below the 9th grade may be taught with anyone with an elementary certificate....

As to the Math MTEL, I am too tired to go look for it. I am sorry, but I am also human and I am too tired....

If you have any friends in the MassDems or in the Deval Patrick Admin, just ask them. I just am too tired....

Having Dr Chen study math instruction in our schools, and provide a full critique with recommendations is just what the doctor ordered to move this issue forward. Kudos. Kudos. Kudos, Dr. Sanderson.

http://is.gd/gXBVy

Has anyone asked, "How many times in the last decade, two decades, three decades, etc. has the school system spent many tens of thousands of dollars on new textbooks that were supposed to be the final, superior, long-lasting solution to teaching math in our schools?"

The answer may surprise many, and may lead some to think that a single textbook/curriculum is not the real solution.

7:40- I think that you're question is really on point. How many of us who grew up in the 60's and early 70's suffered through "new" math? "New math? what was the matter with the old math?" Sound familiar?

This is a link to a recent article in the NY Times that discusses the use of Primary Math in various high-performing school districts:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/01/education/01math.html

Thanks for the link to NYT article. The reader comments were also interesting to look at -- many that were similar to the debate that we are having in our town.

The real issue is how best to teach math to our students now. If we need better teaching materials, we need better materials. If teachers need deeper math knowledge, they do. If kids need to work harder and learn to focus more, so be it. Let's get to the task at hand, not endlessly snipe.

Thank you Curious Observer for redirecting the conversation away from sniping. It sounds as though we need our elementary teachers to develop deeper math knowledge AND we need to provide them with better materials (a book that works better for ELL students and struggling learners than the one we currently have). I hope that we can move in that direction and won't get bogged down in another ridiculous power struggle.

the field of education in general gives teachers whiplash as it careens back and forth across pedagogies, methodologies and philosophies. Teachers develop a very healthy skepticism about "the next new thing" knowing it will be replaced by the next "answer for all students" some point down the line. The question about $$ spent on changing programs and texts is a very apt one, and totally separate from the need to evaluate program effectiveness. ANY teacher can be effective in ANY program (I feel like I'm a broken record) if they 1) understand the content well, and 2) more importantly, understand their students as learners well. But what's the response of most districts to achievement disparities, or some other issue? Change the program...again...and again...

Ken,

So here goes again...How would a teacher, eg 4th grade teacher, decide what pages out of the 300 or more (the Investigation books are hundreds of pages long) to cover in the school year? Is this teacher given which pages to cover? Given the supplementary material that covers what is lacking? Do ALL 4th grade teachers get the same directions? Maybe this falls under curriculum alignment but I haven't seen any indication that this is happening or any discussion of it *possibly* happening. It isn't about knowledge content so much as knowing what material is most important (you can't cover the book in a school year) and knowing the order of content that best supports learning. I think it is too much to expect individual teachers to miraculously come up with the same material to teach each year. Have you to read NMAP materials (references provided by Dr. Chen)? Or do you distrust it?

Hello everyone-

A few of you have asked about the math MTEL. This is a test a secondary math teacher must take in order to be licensed to teach in the state of Massachusetts. There are two different versions of the mathematics test, a 5-8 middle school math test and a 9-12 high school math test. These tests are all content based and the math content extends several years beyond the grade level licenced. For example, the math 5-8 MTEL asks math content questions extending up into geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus. I have heard that the 9-12 math MTEL tests students in topics extending into advanced Calculus and college Linear Algebra.

The tests are very long - most participants take at least 6 hours for a single exam. They are also very comprehensive tests and to pass a test one would need the knowledge Dr. Chen calls for in the recommendations of his report.

Teachers who are licensed Mathematics teachers would have to take the MTEL to maintain their license. As most of you already know, a teacher cannot teach for more than a year without a specific subject license.

Abby, What teachers need to accomplish is meeting the standards in the Massachusetts State Curriculum Frameworks. Even then, DESE is now working on narrowing the range of topics to be covered, and ranking them so some are more important than others. (And when the Common Core comes along, things will shift yet again.) Districts should align themselves at each grade to spend the most time on key Frameworks concepts, REGARDLESS of all that has been stuck in a textbook. So it should NOT up to individual teachers to decide what to cover, but rather a district decision based on the Frameworks. EVERY district in MA does this, or should be doing this according to DESE.

A few years before I left Amherst, Investigations (1st edition) was not yet the district text, but being pushed by the principal at our school. I didn't like the 1st edition for the students I worked with, but could see how it was coming regardless, and wanted to help my students succeed with it. I was in an ESL inclusion classroom, which had 6 ELs out of 20 students. I was scheduled in during math, and I suggested to the teacher--who hated Investigations--that I take the lowest 1/2 of ALL the students based on 3rd grade end-of-year scores and a computerized computation test he had. I did math in my room, he did math in his. I did about 1/2 the curriculum from 4th, the core concepts, based on an examination of previous years' MCAS tests: chiefly multiplication/division-, and geometry-related. I spent a lot of time on language complexity in math, and we did LOTS and LOTS of problem solving, getting increasingly complex and difficult as the year progressed. I took Investigations and explicitly taught the students how to work successfully in it. The classroom teacher did the entire 4th grade curriculum his way, a much more traditional approach.

At the end of the year, though I covered 1/2 the quantity of "curriculum" topics, and had the lowest math achievers at the start of the year, my distribution of MCAS scores was IDENTICAL to the classroom teachers': 2 Advanced, 3 Proficient, 3 Needs Improvement, and 1 Warning (a student whose parents refused SPED, and the student couldn't read the test, but without an ed plan couldn't get help during the test). That was with 6 ELLs of the 10 students, (4 of those 6 being Cambodian-American students). So yes, if a district employs common sense in how it aligns its curriculum REGARDLESS of textbook, and ACTIVELY supports teachers in content knowledge development, AND understanding diverse learners better, then that's all they need--learning how to conform the program to students, not the students to program. Granted, Primary Math may be simpler to use, but it will be most effective if teachers are trained as above. I work all over the state now, and see higher and lower levels of math achievement across all programs, fairly consistent with demographics. I just happen to have a "student-first" philosophy about teaching, be it math, reading, science or anything.

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