Florida’s Middle School Math Problems: A Perfect Storm
Why did Florida’s 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math scores plummet? We believe it may be the result of a “perfect storm” created by Common Core Math and Accountabaloney…
Florida State University Physics Professor, Paul Cottle, in a December 5, 2015 op-ed (read it here) in the Tallahassee Democrat, sounded the alarm regarding recent dismal middle school math performance:
“Florida’s middle schools have fallen off a cliff in math, according to recently released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam given to a sampling of students in nearly all states.
When NAEP was administered in 2013, it determined that 31 percent of Florida’s eighth graders were proficient in math. That was below the 2013 national average. But the news this year was much worse: Only 26 percent of the state’s eighth graders were found to be proficient in that subject.
It’s important to note that the national math proficiency rate for eighth graders declined as well – from 35 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2015.
But Florida’s decline was the nation’s largest. You might think that Florida’s educational leaders would mobilize an effort to address this crisis in middle school math. But you’d be wrong.”
Mr Cottle goes on to suggest attracting mathematically talented young people to teaching is the solution to our middle school math problems. While that may be part of the solution, we think the problem may go much deeper than teacher quality.
We do agree with Mr. Tuttle, however, when he says, “There is one thing for sure: Pretending the problem doesn’t exist isn’t going to make it go away.”
Lennie Jarratt wrote a column on 12/2/2015, discussing declining NAEP scores since the institution of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). She reported that the 2015 NAEP scores showed “an across-the-board decrease in math test scores,” the first drop in 25 years. She, also, pointed out that, after breaking down the data, there was a greater decline in states that had adopted the Common Core math standards. She voiced concern that the standards might be to blame:
“The math techniques now associated with Common Core-aligned math are solidly entrenched in many public education systems across the nation, even though in 2006 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics called for an end to these techniques and a return to teaching the basics, i.e. direct instruction and memorization of basic facts. These basics provide a solid foundation for understanding, learning, and building future math concepts. Teachers who use Common Core-aligned math are similar to those who attempt to build a house without a foundation; the house is destined to crumble.”
When the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are calling for a return to basics, one wonders why policy makers would not listen?
What has changed since transitioning to the Common Core? In a column from the Brooking Institute, Tom Loveless outlines the differences between math instruction prior to and after initiation of the CCSS. In a nutshell, he describes how the CCSS math sequence delays some basic math instruction, resulting in 6th graders now practicing basic division algorithms when they used to be focusing on the study of rational numbers (fractions, decimals, percentages).
Since Florida Standards curriculum closely aligns to Common Core, this means that Florida students are now wasting time working on basic math into middle school, time that should be spent in the study of rational numbers.
Also in Florida, middle school math is being squeezed from the top end as well because there is a greater and greater push to move Algebra and Geometry classes into 6th and 7th grade. Florida’s current A-F school grading system rewards schools that place students into these advanced math courses. Schools have responded by placing more and more students into Algebra 1 whether they are ready or not. Last fall, parents in Orange County were outraged to learn that their middle school Algebra 1 students were simultaneously placed in remedial math courses, presumably to give those students extra time to prepare for the Algebra 1 End of Course exam. Placing students into advanced math when then are not properly prepared seems ill-advised.
In addition, the course content in Florida’s Algebra 1 and 2 courses no longer resembles the courses students took preCCSS. In an attempt to make Florida Standards more “rigorous” than regular CCSS, Florida added dozens of advanced math standards to the upper end of high school math. The trickle down effect has resulted in approximately 1/3 of the previous Algebra 1 content now being taught in pre-algebra, 1/3 of the previous Algebra 2 content now being taught in Algebra 1 and Trigonometry now being taught in Algebra 2. This shifting of advanced content into lower level math courses exacerbates the squeeze on time available to learn traditional middle school math material (fractions, decimals, percentages).
The shift has been so dramatic that we question whether middle school Algebra 1 teachers (with a middle school math credential which covers math content up to grade 9) are teaching out of subject when they are required to teach Algebra 2 content. Florida has a law that says families must be notified if their child’s teacher is teaching out of subject. Is your child’s Algebra 1 teacher certified to teach Algebra 2 content?
The combination of the Common Core Math’s delay of basic math instruction and Florida’s drive to reward increasingly difficult math into middle school has resulted in a perfect storm. It’s intensity is reflected in Florida’s plummeting 8th grade Math scores. It is another clear example of the destructive force of accountabaloney.
NAEP scores sounded the storm warning. We think that Florida’s educational leaders should be mobilizing an effort to address this crisis in middle school math. Do they have any such plans? Can they smell the baloney? We can only hope…
Batten the hatches.
DISCLAIMER and a Call for Help from Florida’s Math Teachers: It is not entire clear what or who is responsible for placing Algebra 2 content into Florida’s Algebra 1 course standards. Is it part of CCSS or unique to Florida Standards? We are not sure. If anyone has information regarding this or any other impacts of accountabaloney on Florida’s math sequence, please contact us.