Local schools address math scores from MAP tests

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Application-based format pinpointed as reason for dip in proficiency

Due to poor math performance on Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) tests for students grades three through eight in school districts across the state, teachers are now finding more inventive ways to incorporate math into their curriculums.

Factors such as lack of exposure to the new, application-style teaching, as well as a new online format, are suspected as the reason for the outcomes.

"It seems to me the [scores] were low across all grade levels, but I don't think the gap was as big in the lower grades as it was in the middle grades," said Tabitha Tufares, fourth-grade teacher at Southwest. "I think this was due to time spent on the new standards by the students. I do feel scores will get better over time. I feel as students get more instruction with the new Missouri Learning Standards, they will be more prepared for the more rigorous test questions. These standards were implemented in only the last two or three years in many districts, so last year's eighth-graders only had two or three years of common core instruction before taking this test."

Tufares said some students respond to the new teaching model better than others.

"I feel teaching students in this new format is a good thing," she said. "I see students responding to it better. At least it seems the middle-schoolers do. They are more interested, and I get fewer blank stares than when teaching in the traditional method. I am not saying it was not frustrating at times for both them and myself, but that was due to how much work students had done and that they were not used to it.

"I think working math into the curriculum won't require teachers coming up with scenarios, but just noticing when a situation could use math and have students do it. For example, in health classes they talk about nutrition and box labels having percentages on them. Having students figure out their nutritional intake and percentages would not be a stretch outside of their curriculum. Science does a lot of math with measurement and volume. Social Studies incorporates math when they talk about economics and population."

Reminding students of the reason for math is most important, Tufares said.

"I think the main goal is getting students to see that math isn't just for math class," she said. "It is a life skill they will need as an adult. A middle school and high school math teacher is asked the same question by kids every year: When am I going to use this in my life? So, for those kids that struggle with the concept we need to show them when and how it is used through application."

The Exeter school district is also adjusting to the changes and addressing the issues.

"I know that the high school and elementary principals have been talking about ways to work with staff to set goals," said Ernest Raney, superintendent for the district. "They'll be working on interventions and collaborating on ideas and areas needing more attention. It's a paradigm shift, and we're all working together to address it."

Adam Robertson, Exeter High School math teacher, thinks application-based learning is good, just not so early.

"I don't like that they expect this level of learning at such a young age," Robertson said. "As a whole, I like where the new formats are going, I just think they are trying to get there too fast. We have to take baby steps so that no one is overwhelmed. I wholeheartedly believe that scores will get better over time. We are all constantly modifying how we teach day to day so that we can prepare students for what they will face.

"I will say that I have limited faith in the new system. Traditional teaching methods are a good start to teach math, then the modern methods are a good way to reinforce the material that I have taught them. I think there should be more focus on understanding the basics before we move on to application-based material. This makes it easier for students to focus on the critical thinking areas of learning."

Cassville Assistant Superintendent Jill LeCompte reported scores were good in the elementary grades, but there were variances in higher grades. In eighth grade math, 24.8 percent scored proficient and advanced, while 75.2 percent scored below basic and basic.

"All over the state, eighth-grade MAP scores were somewhat lower because many schools offer Algebra 1 in eighth-grade," she said.

LeCompte said the Algebra 1 test counts for high school, which affects outcomes.

"So, our very best math students don't take the math test in MAP, they take it for high school's end-of-course testing, so eighth-grade scores are always lower. Seventh grade looked better because those kids all take the MAP test, but in eighth grade, all students take it if they're not taking Algebra 1."

Kara Hendrix, curriculum director for Southwest school district, said most schools in the area saw a significant drop in all grades in the percent of students who scored proficient or advanced on the math portion of the MAP assessment in comparison to previous years.

"The multiple choice questions required students to identify all answers that were correct, unlike previous assessments which had only one correct answer," she said.

Hendrix said having good typing skills and computer knowledge to effectively communicate thoughts and ideas for constructed response questions, and adequate mathematical reasoning abilities to solve complex problems, hence application-based, affected scores.

"Although the results of the math assessments were somewhat disappointing, these results and this first experience with this type of test has allowed our district to prepare a plan for improvement," she said.

Among those plans are teaching students to become better problem-solvers and critical thinkers, and providing more opportunities to practice questions they will see on the test.

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