Tuesday, February 28, 2012

VA Math Teachers Get Their Wish: Teaching To The Test? Poof, Gone

Anytime we raise the subject of Virginia's SOL testing we hear a loud chorus, in sweet harmony, proclaiming; "I spend all my time teaching to the test. Please allow me to teach my students without such restrictions". The Roanoke Times reports today that formatting changes on the middle and high school SOL math tests will likely result in a drastic reduction in accreditation. Why? Perhaps because it will now be near impossible to teach to the test. It appears the Virginia Department of Education does not believe our math teachers are up to the task, at least not yet.
Virginia Department of Education officials caution there may be a "temporary drop in pass rates as local curriculum and instructional strategies are adjusted to meet higher expectations for learning and achievement," according to a report released to division superintendents Wednesday. It is unclear how the new tests actually will influence accreditation standings in 2012 because, in addition to performance, there are two caveats. First, students taking end-of-course assessments for high school classes can retake the test and only the passing score counts. Second, a three-year average is used to calculate the pass rates that determine accreditation.
Hear that math teachers? They think it will take you three years to prove yourselves right. Prove them wrong.
About 24,000 Virginia students -- most of whom took the yearlong math courses during the first semester of this school year -- took the new math assessment in Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. Charles Pyle, education department spokesman, provided the performance results of those tests but cautioned the sample may not be representative. Pass rates on the Algebra I test dropped from 84.1 percent in the fall of 2010 to 49.2 percent last fall. The test takers fared best on the Geometry test, which decreased from 78.5 percent in fall 2010 to 63percent last fall. Algebra II test pass rates declined more than 30 percentage points. "If the performance of the 24,000 students ... is a sign of things to come, there will be an impact on accreditation," Pyle said. [ellipsis in original]
It looks like Virginia's teachers will no longer be 'teaching to the test', but rather actually teaching math. the old SOL was multiple choice, while the new, interactive test requires students to actually know the subject.
The changes to the math assessments are multifaceted, including more rigorous standards adopted in 2009 and the addition of "technology-enhanced" [computer vs paper and pencil] questions. The questions will require students to demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving and math content knowledge. "Traditionally the Standards of Learning assessments have been multiple choice," said Todd Lewis, Roanoke's math co├Ârdinator.
The Roanoke Times also states:
Pyle, said the changes to the test's format and rigor were not done in an arbitrary way to make the test harder. Instead the revised standards are part of a statewide push to better prepare high school graduates for college. The new standards align with the national Common Core standards, although Virginia is one of only a handful of states not to endorse the initiative.
Alright Mr. or Ms. Math Teacher, now you get your wish. You are no longer allowed to teach to the test, you have been given the opportunity to actually teach your middle and high school students the methods, theories, and laws of math and Geometry as they apply to Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. Most likely in the same way you and I were taught. Certainly the same way they will encounter in college. Take this latest development as a challenge. Prove you were right all along. Let's see those math SOL scores soar Virginia.

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