Washington, D.C., (November 18, 2004) — A new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution finds that math items on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math assessment lack challenging arithmetic, often requiring skills that are several years below grade level. The findings cast a disturbing light on recent highly-publicized math gains as measured by the NAEP assessment.
Despite sharply rising test scores on both the NAEP Math and most state math tests, the Brown Center's analysis of the difficulty of the math items at fourth and eighth grade demonstrates that the NAEP test fails to assess essential arithmetic skills that are required for success in algebra and higher mathematics.
"The good news is that NAEP scores have risen dramatically in mathematics over the past decade," noted Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and author of the 2004 Brown Center Report on American Education. "But, given our findings, it is unclear whether this is a significant accomplishment in terms of substantial gains in mathematics skills and knowledge."
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP as it is commonly known, assesses fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade students in math and reading. Scores on the math assessments have risen dramatically over the last 10 years, indicating that U.S. students are becoming more adept at mathematics.
But the Brown Center analysis shows that the NAEP math assessments rely on arithmetic skills that are far below the grade levels of the students being assessed. The analysis finds that almost all problem solving items use whole numbers and avoid fractions, decimals, and percentages – forms of numbers that students must know how to use to tackle higher order mathematics like algebra.
Whenever you see claims that some educational gap between races is closing or that some school has made big progress in improving educational outcomes the question you should immediately ask yourself is whether some educational bureaucracy is trying to lie to you with lousy tests and deceptive statistics. More often than not the answer is "Yes". Really, I'm not exaggerating.
The report also includes a national survey of middle school mathematics teachers and finds that most middle school mathematics teachers did not major in mathematics, do not hold a teaching certificate in the subject, and are not getting the kinds of professional development that will help them gain essential content knowledge.
For this analysis, the Brown Center on Education Policy surveyed a random sample of 252 middle school math teachers nationwide. The survey found that fewer than one-fourth (22%) of the teachers majored in math while in college. Additionally, less than one-half of middle school math teachers – only 41% – hold a teaching certificate in mathematics.
My guess is that teachers unions and the culture of educational bureaucracies prevent more talented math teachers from being paid more. People who teach harder subjects ought to get paid more since it takes more brains to master those subjects well enough to teach them. Otherwise those people smart enough to master hard subjects will decide not to go into teaching in the first place. But that common sense attitude clashes with the socialistic beliefs of the educrats.
Given the lack of financial incentives do not expect the average talent level of middle school or high school math teachers to rise dramatically any time soon. Whether that is a bad thing is hard to say. After all, many smart people who go into industry instead of into teaching will innovate, invent, and competently manage companies to produce wealth that will fund schools and a great many other things. Perhaps a better solution to the deficiencies of teacher skills is filmed lectures of the most talented teachers. Then a single great teacher could teach literally millions of kids.
You can read the full report. (PDF format)
Update: As for my contention that you can't trust the test results: Check out some evidence for teacher cheating on standard student tests.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 November 29 12:40 PM Education|