Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Draft #3 of Oklahoma Educational Standards Released - Neither Stotsky Nor Gray Impressed

Recently, the Oklahoma State Department of Education uploaded draft 3 of the new Oklahoma Educational Standards. There are new things visible on the webpage now besides the standards that appear interesting. Mainly, the inclusion of "external" reviews by several major education reform players: 

The Southern Regional Education Board, The Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the South Central Comprehensive Center. Since the first draft, we have complained that none of the standards reviews have been made public - which is why we began publishing our own - unfortunately, these are all organizations involved in 'education reform' at some level. In fact, we've written papers about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the fact that the white papers supporting its mission are steeped in the failed progressive education methods of Dewey. 

The South Central Comprehensive Center has this to say about its funding and missionThe South Central Comprehensive Center (SC3) is part of a national network of centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to support the improvement of educational outcomes. If that's not the definition of the Fox Guarding The Hen House, what exactly is? 

Only the Southern Regional Education Board appears to be moderating away from Common Core, but its white paper on College and Career Readiness indicates the need for states to create a 'default high school CURRICULUM' - something that should concern any local control proponent. At any rate,these reviews should be read by the general public with these facts in mind.

Not long after the release of the 3rd draft, Nate Robson of Oklahoma Watch penned a nice article detailing Dr. Sandra Stotsky's thoughts on the new standards which included the statement,

“You’re close to the bottom of the basement, I am sorry to say, because there is no content in them,” said Stotsky. “These are pious statements of academic goals. These are not standards. A standard is a criterion by which you grade something.”

Ouch. Professor Stotsky is now forced to provide basic educational definitions to the Standards Re-Write Committee - not a sterling commendation to say the least - but there is a question here Robson dances around; Why invite three separate 'experts' to testify to the Standards Writing Committee detailing the process for writing excellent educational standards, yet then invite three different ORGANIZATIONS tied to the education establishment to write reviews for the 3rd revision of the standards? Why not just go back to the original sources? It's what Robson did. Maybe that was the unchosen path for a reason. Maybe the department knew the writing committees hadn't been following the expert advice provided the Standards Committee. Maybe they didn't want the experts coming back to salt the ground they'd originally plowed for the OSDE.

The impetus matters not, actually. What matters is that both Stotsky (English) and Gray (Minnesota math) were not generally complementary of the 3rd standards draft to Robson, and this has sad implications for Oklahoma students.

Below are the specific comments provided by Stotsky (Gray's can be found in the Oklahoma Watch article)

1.  Under "Critical Writing"--Most writing standards do not lead to an assessment of the kind of writing done in college or the real world of work.  OK's draft organizes the writing standards under "narrative," "informative," and "argument."  

The “narratives” (most of which is creative writing) are curriculum-relevant chiefly in the early grades and are not desirable in college or the world of work.   "Informative" is fine, but "argument" should be changed to "persuasion" and "opinion" eliminated in the elementary grades.   Only "informative" prepares kids for college and career writing.

More important, why can’t OK require all local school districts to assign and assess a research paper or senior thesis for English and history or science in grade 11 and/or 12 to prepare students in an authentic way for college and career.  That is precisely where authentic research standards, as in the strand in my 2013 document. should be assessed.

2.  The "Critical Reading" standards should NOT be divided into Literary and Informational.  That is pure Common Core and it is very bad for the English curriculum.  The Critical Reading standards should be divided into (1) Fiction, (2) Nonfiction, (3) Poetry, (4) Dramatic Literature), and (5) Classical and Traditional literature.   That's what English teachers have always taught and been trained to teach.

3.  The OK drafting committee must come up with an example of a literary text that could be used (and how) for every single standard so that teachers understand what reading level is required or desirable at every grad level (and what the standard means).  Make it clear these texts are not required; only examples of reading levels.

4.  Get rid of processes for reading and writing in this document.  They are not standards but pedagogy. 

5.  Get this ELA committee to put in Oklahoma-related reading standards at the high school level--grades 11 and 12.   One standard for texts by major authors born in or who wrote about Oklahoma, and one standard for biographies/autobiographies about famous Oklahomans through history.   

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Southeastern Oklahoma State University Professor Says PK-4 Standards Are Generally Appropriate But Lack Play

Review of Proposed Oklahoma Educational Standards by Barbara McClanahan, Associate Professor of Educational Instruction and Leadership, Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

I have finished a cursory review of the PK-4 draft standards, and I don't present my thoughts as based on an in-depth review. I find things I like and things I don't like. 

In general, I think the standards for these grades represent an appropriate progression of cognitive skills based on typical child development. I also conferred with a colleague of mine at Southeastern who is more of an early childhood expert than I, and she agrees.

My biggest concern at the PK level, and even K, is a lack of a standard for play. Much recent research suggests strongly that not only is play a critical need for these young students, but pushing the cognitive skills required for early reading may later be found to be detrimental. I think more important than learning letter names or sounds, there should be a standard calling for a substantial portion of the school day to be devoted to both structured and unstructured play. Despite what many people believe, play is a learning strategy and should absolutely have a standard at this level. 

In addition, all of the standards regarding reading skills, even comprehension of texts read aloud, should be applied very flexibly to allow for a wide range of developmental levels in any given PK-2 classroom.

As we move into K, the content regarding phonics and phonemic awareness builds, but these standards, along with vocabulary, again may not be reachable for a large percentage of students simply because of developmental issues. Again, the standards must be applied flexibly.

Standard 8 for K says: "Students will demonstrate interest in books..." That seems to me to be an impossible standard because interest must be built on students' affect over which the teacher has minimal control. You cannot command students to be interested in books. Recognizing this, I think it is important for the standard to read "Students will demonstrate growing interest in books..." That is something a teacher could monitor through observation and, with reflection, adjust the teaching approach to move the child along on a continuum of interest.

In both PK and K, the word "With guidance and support" appear frequently, but beginning in first grade, they disappear almost completely. Especially for Standard 5, Language, I believe they need to be used to support sentence writing. And again I think the language should read something like "The student will show growth in the ability to compose..." As long as we are determined to maintain and age/grad system, many students will continue to need "guidance and support" into second grade.

Fluency seems inadequately addressed across the board in the standards. In Grade 2, for example, I think there should be something here to the effect that regularly spelled and previously decoded words will be increasingly recognized automatically in order to build fluency. This is the essence of mature reading but is not mentioned anywhere.

In the Grade 2 Writing standard there is a phrase that makes no sense to me: "include past tense or irregularly past tense verbs".

In 3rd Grade, several standards require a level of abstraction that may not be obtainable by a significant percentage of third graders. For example, while according to the standards, third graders need guidance and support to determine the theme of a story, they are expected to negotiate figurative language on their own. Hmmm....

Beginning in the first grade standards, the reading comprehension strategies are essentially the same across the grade levels up through 4th. One must assume that the differences lie in the level of depth to which the student is required to implement them and the level of text, but that is not spelled out.  In the standards on Critical Reading and Writing, we see a similar progression of requirements up through the grade levels; I would expect that by 4th grade one of the requirements would be to identify how characters change over the course of the plot, but I did not see it. It could reasonably appear as early as 2nd or 3rd.

One other concern that my colleague had was that there should be a glossary; she fears that not all teachers would understand all the terms being used. Another concern I have is that some of the terms have ambiguous meanings. For example, what does grade-specific or grade-appropriate actually mean?

I actually think this is a pretty good beginning. If I had more time, I would like to compare these with other good standards, such as the "old" Massachusetts ones. Alas, I do not have that kind of time.

I hope this is helpful.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why The ACT?

As many of our readers know, ROPE has not been supportive of state-sponsored ACT use. We believe ACT is a private-market test (no matter how the company would like to sell it) and parents and students should determine when to take it - even if they should take it at all.

Recently, State Superintendent Hofmeister made it possible for all Oklahoma 11th graders to take the ACT should they choose to do so (it is a voluntary action via school district). This was after the state legislature chose not to act on an end of year ACT exam last session.

This has left the question of "Why the ACT?" Why is it SO important to have Oklahoma students take the ACT? We're told it's because, as Mrs. Hofmeister has said numerous times, "Oklahoma is an ACT state", meaning (we infer) that the majority of students take the ACT and the majority of Colleges/Universities here in Oklahoma consider the results of the ACT for admissions.

Unfortunately, it's rarely noted that both OU and OSU start with grade point average and class position as their first necessity for admissions - NOT the ACT. Both OU and OSU take SAT as well as ACT. So if that's not what makes us an "ACT state", what does? Is it the fact that the ACT is sold most often to parents/students here in Oklahoma? What difference is that other than the result of a good marketing strategy?

Recently, the National PTA placed an article on its website called "Ten "Must Know" Facts About Educational Testing". Here, the PTA covers common misconceptions and provides information on various different types of testing. Number 7 was interesting, so I have pasted it below. Please remember, as you read this, that the Oklahoma PTA has been one of the staunch supporters of the ACT.

List of organizations in Oklahoma supporting the use of taxpayer funded ACT
Fact 7:Even though only about 25 percent of a student's success in college is related to the student's score on aptitude tests such as the ACT and SAT, parents should (1) still help their children prepare for those tests, but (2) avoid conveying a negative impression to a child whose test scores are not particularly high. The research evidence on this point is quite conclusive.
There are many factors far more influential than aptitude-test scores in predicting a student's college performance. A student's motivation, study habits, and interpersonal skills play powerful roles in shaping collegiate success. Parents should not think that a child who doesn't earn super scores on a college admissions test is destined for failure—in college or beyond. Numerous students who earn lofty scores on the SAT or ACT take an academic tumble when they get into college. There are many important kinds of intelligence, and the "academic" intelligence measured by most standardized aptitude tests is only one.
Action Implication:
First, if your child doesn't score well on the ACT or SAT, do not conclude that your child is "not bright." And definitely do not convey any such negative impression to your child. Second, because ACT and SAT scores do, in fact, play a significant part in current college admissions decisions, be sure to provide your child with at least some preparation for those tests
Goodness. The national PTA essentially says here that really, the kids who do best on the ACT are the ones that have test prep. Hmmmm. Now that we're providing all 11th graders with the ACT, the state will most certainly need to hire another private non-profit like Kaplan Test Prep or the scores won't be as good as they could be. Not only that, but even if the students don't do well on the test, poor results don't really mean anything in the context of a student's preparation for the world. Even retiring ACT president, John Erikson says,
"...but even if you think your test results don't reflect your grades and courses, your classroom achievements and dedication will overcome a poor test showing."
So why do we need to pay kids to take this test again?

Could it be then, that the reason why ACT is so heavily lobbying for Oklahoma to make ACT a 'state' test - and why the education establishment is kowtowing to this sales job - is because of the fact that everyone involved here will get a big fat chunk of data from every kid who takes the test? Yes, I think so. Data is power. As Arne Duncan so famously said, "Data drives decisions", and of course, the Oklahoma education establishment bought this idea hook, line and sinker. Yes, if we make ACT a 'state' test, the state will get a big fat package of student data and so will ACT.

ACT has its own entire division for data collection. Test takers have a supplemental data form they can fill out at the beginning of the test. ACT analyses this information in order to assist student placement in the best choices for them following graduation (college, trade school, etc.). They also have an entire division devoted to collecting data based upon test responses which then allows them to make 'predictions' about the body of test takers and their preparedness in each of the tested subjects. They also use this data to 'verify' assumptions about the validity of the test.

What in the world could state and federal governments do with these data but go on to create yet more - expensive and invasive - changes to the public education system, including more testing? In other words, education policy arises from data collected from tests that are then used to define education policy! It's a self-inflicted wound - a closed loop system.

Just recently, ACT released the data collected from students who took the ACT last year in their annual report. Though the Common Core panacea was supposed to have been instituted in states in 2010, the headline of the entire multi-page annual report would have to be,
"...based on data from a record 1.9 million ACT-tested students - nearly 60% of the 2015 US graduating class - shows very little change in overall college readiness over the past several years."
Interestingly, the SAT has very similar results to report,

Source: College Board, Created by for EdWeek

Apparently, all the new federally subsidized and 'suggested' education fads aren't working. What else could these results underscore other than the COMPLETE AND TOTAL FAILURE OF TODAY'S EDUCATION REFORM POLICIES? Apparently, the constant testing pummeling students today in the name of education accountability isn't helping anyone but the bottom line of the testing companies. It's SURELY and OBVIOUSLY not helping the kids. If parents want students to take college readiness tests, parents should either pay for them out of their own pockets, or apply to ACT for a grant to do so. States should not be using hard-earned tax dollars to pay for a test that - at best gives them an idea of what they do and don't know - they should be using those tax dollars to support great teachers and TRADITIONAL educational methods that have been shown to work for decades.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dr. Sandra Stotsky Does Not Believe English Standards First Draft Indicative Of First-Rate ELA Standards

As the October deadline for the finalized Oklahoma educational standards draft looms on the horizon, we've recently published Dr. James Milgram's take on the Oklahoma math standards draft.

Dr. Stotsky, who shared with the Oklahoma Standards Writing Committee her vision of how the Oklahoma standards re-write should begin at the first meeting of the year, February 16, found - like the rest of us who saw her presentation - that the standards re-write process appeared to have deviated from her process by using Oklahoma's original standards as the jumping off point. Though she did not share a comment for each specific standard written, she has shared her overall thoughts about the standards and about the process. Her comments are important and should be taken to heart.

We are aware that Dr. Stotsky sent her comments directly to the State Department of Education, however, we were not made aware of them until recently when I emailed to ask if she'd compiled a file of her comments. This is important information as well. Part of Dr. Stotsky's plan was that all public comment be MADE PUBLICLY so everyone else could see what comments were being made. How many of us have seen any comments other than those we posted by Dr. Milgram? 

Mrs. Hofmeister was good to create a specific transparency policy about the Standards Re-Write Committee meetings, but we've seen no such document pertaining to the draft comments.
If everyone who wanted to was able to see the comments made by the public could do so, maybe there would be patterns that emerge that others could see. How could this not be helpful? When the final standards are completed, if one (or more) of the patterns aren't addressed by the committee, it would be good to know why not, if for no other reason than simple public transparency.

Dr. Stotsky's comments follow:

I'm glad to hear that the committee has an English prof from an Oklahoma U and that high school English teachers are on the drafting committee.  I don't think that the first draft it came up with is a helpful start for a first-rate set of ELA standards.  I am told that the blueprint or model the committee began with was the old set of OK ELA standards.   The organization of that draft isn't useful for what needs to be done to provide non-Common Core standards.  Right now, what you have is very close to being compatible with Common Core and a Common Core-based test.  OK kids deserve better.
I strongly recommend that the drafting committee use the original CA (1998) standards or the Indiana 2006 standards, or the 2013 standards I put together based on the first-rate 2001 MA ELA standards.  In math, OK should simply adopt what MN worked out, and use the test that MN uses.
It would not set the committee back in time if it does what I suggested for ELA. I suggested simply going through most of the k-8 standards one by one to accept or leave out for OK.  These other standards have been vetted many times over, are worded properly for standards, and were considered first-rate by many pairs of eyes.  No need to re-invent the wheel or struggle to figure out developmental progressions from grade to grade, which is a problem with the way that the committee is now working.  It is not productive to work in 3 educational level groups, if the basic outline is as weak as the old OK outline was.
The only educational level that OK committee members, especially the high school English teachers and the English professor, might change if my advice were followed would be the literature standards in 9-12.  Here, the only changes to make might be to add one or two standards requiring OK high school students to read historically and culturally important works by authors who lived in Oklahoma or wrote about Oklahoma.   The rest of the ELA standards would give OK a first-rate set of standards that are NOT Common Core, but are demanding and first-rate.  That is what OK wants for its kids.  
Here's the rub: while HB3399 says that Oklahoma's standards should be created by Oklahomans for Oklahomans, that doesn't mean we shouldn't avail ourselves of great standards already in use in another state - as Dr. Stotsky points out. Why, if Oklahoma's standards weren't as good as the ones Stotsky points to, are we not using these as a starting point and then tweaking as needed? Not a single person I know of who worked hard to stop Common Core in Oklahoma ever wanted Oklahoma's standards to be sub par, or somehow not as good as Massachusetts simply because they needed to be crafted in our state.

Let's not follow the letter of the law so closely we make the mistake of denying Oklahoma students access to truly great, proven standards just because they're from another state. So long as they aren't the Common Core, or a set of standards pushed by the feds through grant programs or other incentives; so long as parents can petition the state if they find something about them objectionable, there's no reason to be pharisees. Goodness, if we're really concerned about following the law, there wouldn't be schools teaching the Common Core right now, but we've been told there are. 

Oklahoma needs to have really good educational standards, period. Let's, as Dr. Stotsky says, use the ones she wrote, or California's (etc.) and add to them. Let's make providing a floor for academic excellence in Oklahoma our TOP priority.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Remembering Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello

During the 2010 Oklahoma elections, ROPE supported Mark Costello for Labor Commissioner because Mark was a small business entrepreneur, having founded American Computer and Telephone (AMCAT) in 1991, which he sold in 2007, after which he started USA Digital Communications. Mark knew business and understood labor issues. Who else better to run the Department of Labor?

Following the election, Julia, Lynn and I would often run into Mark while at the Capitol lobbying or at a Republican event and we grew to know him personally. I laugh because, for probably the first year we knew him, he knew me as 'Janet'. He'd come across the room sometimes with a big smile on his face, hand extended, to say, "Hello Janet!" I'll never forget that. I'd correct him with a laugh, he'd laugh with me, and we'd assure one another that one day he'd get it right'. I loved that about him - he was just a regular guy - a regular guy who seemed happy to see you and enjoy the company of others.

Often, we'd see Mark someplace we were speaking about Common Core and eventually we began to have conversations about the issue. Not only as Labor Commissioner, but as an employer, Mark had become genuinely concerned that Common Core was not 'OK' for the future of Oklahoma businesses. As an entrepreneur himself, I believe he really understood the necessity for students to get an education well-rounded enough to allow them to develop their creativity - creativity which can easily become initiative; a foundation of entrepreneurial spirit. An education not dictated by a 'common' set of educational standards, but one that would help foster the individuality of all kids.

Last year, as the fight against Common Core was coming to a crescendo, Mark penned an op-ed against Common Core read by many thousands of people, that we all believe helped turn the tide in our favor. In it, he penned the following paragraph
Common Core is to education what Obamacare is to health, a centralized government process that strips local control away from parents, teachers, and school boards. Why the push by large non-profits to establish national education standards? Some have asserted the concept of “mass production” will lower per unit costs. In other words, the God given individual qualities and talents of each child will be restructured by a nationalized production process guided from a top down political structure.
He didn't write these words because we asked him to, he wrote them because he believed them. 

After having had the sheer pleasure of knowing Mark socially for the past five years, I can attest that he was not only a true conservative - one who didn't simply spout the dictionary definition, but possessed a real working understanding of the concept - but an unapologetic Christian as well. When he spoke out for school choice and against Common Core, it wasn't simply out of a concern that Oklahoma would squelch the entrepreneurial spirit in our youngest citizens, but that students would not be allowed to follow their God-given talents and abilities to the best degree without the broadest form of educational possibility. 

Words cannot possibly give due the sadness we all feel at Mark's passing. He was a wonderful man of whom we have many fond memories, but he was also a boundless force for good in this state. He will be missed many times over throughout many circles, countless groups and among many individuals all across Oklahoma.

Our continued and constant thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Cathy and all their children for peace at this tragic time. 

Thank you Mark Costello for your life, your service, your leadership, your tireless fight for right and your friendship to so many. From what I knew of Mark, the words of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2) would be appreciated here and so I will close:
We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Oklahoma State Department of Education Provides Grant For 11th Graders To Take Free ACT

Last night, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister telephoned me. She was calling out of courtesy for ROPE's  position against the use of ACT as an end of instruction (EOI) exam during the last legislative session to inform me that the Department of Education would supply grant funds for state publicly-schooled 11th graders to take the ACT

Because last year's legislature was uncomfortable enough with the use of the ACT as an EOI to prevent passage of a bill to mandate its use, Mrs. Hofmeister wanted to assure me she was not attempting an end-around the legislature. This program was, instead, she explained, the result of numerous phone calls with administrators who - without the ability to continue their use of ACT's Explore and Plan tests - needed another way to judge student trajectory toward college preparedness. In addition Mrs. Hofmeister asserted that, as in California, less than 50% of Oklahoma students take the ACT, often because they can't afford it and/or lack a parent/guardian to get them to the testing site. Students who can't take the test don't know if they're college-ready material. Indications are that simply knowing they could meet enrollment standards might make students more willing to take the leap toward higher learning.**

Mrs. Hofmeister then asked my thoughts. 

Frankly, it was hard to articulate all our concerns that spontaneously, but I was grateful to have been asked. I mentioned that Explore and Plan had different 'jobs' than the ACT - more career planning - while ACT was a test of college readiness. There is also the ever-expanding concern of college costs versus that of Career Tech. Studies indicate many students entering the workforce out of college take lower paying jobs with greater debt than those students who become certified in a trade. Why aren't we using the money to pay for the ACT for 'shop' classes or concurrent enrollment or work-study programs? Why a test to indicate college readiness?

Our conversation continued for many minutes to be sure, but it wasn't until I read the actual press release from the OSDE today that several more things came to mind:
  1. Early this year, Mrs. Hofmeister insisted that the OSDE not only needed more money, but could not suffer any further cuts or teacher job loss would ensue, increasing our already dire teacher shortage. Why wasn't the $1.5 million budgeted for assessments now being used to fund the ACT put back into the already-tight budget? Why use it to pay schools to give ACT to all 11th graders - especially when some can already afford it and those that can't can apply to the ACT for a fee waiver? Doesn't that solve the problem?
  2. The Explore and Plan tests did not function as the ACT. The Explore was given to students in 8th or 9th grade. It helped students "learn more about careers, clarify your goals and begin to plan your future..." Plan was given in 10th grade as a way to determine whether or not a student's coursework was on track to meet their goals. These tests have both been scrapped in favor of the Common Core aligned Aspire. Certainly, the Aspire test would have been met with some level of resistance from a number of quarters (including ours). So the ACT was next in line? How does the ACT - a test of college readiness - even sort of compare to the job done by the Explore and Plan? I honestly can't see this argument even a little.
  3. Why do we keep pushing college? Why is everything 'college-ready'? Study after study indicates that college graduates are graduating college with more debt and less ability to find a stable job - let alone one in their field. Though our state was 46th in the nation in student debt in 2013, our students had an average college debt of $22,174 over 53% of all college graduates from Oklahoma. That's a miserable statistic. (Tulsa University was the worst at 33K). While the "Workforce of the Future" does include more college graduates, it's important to note that those are only projected as 33% of the job market by 2018. That leaves 67% of the job market in the hands of the trades and skilled workers. Why are we never told this? Again, why do we keep pushing college?
  4. ACT has its own set of standards (the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards). Okay, that's fine, but isn't Oklahoma in the middle of a process to produce our own set of standards? Mission creep is a basic tenet of government anymore. Once this becomes a "free 11th grade test" how short is the step to "mandated 12th grade test"? 
  5. Most college-bound seniors weren't proficient in basic skills in 2011. In fact, last year, only 22% of Oklahoma students taking the ACT met all four benchmarks of basic skills (English, Math, Science and Reading). ONLY 22%? Why in the world are we not putting the $1.5 million to work remediating students in basic skills now instead instead testing a readiness for college we already know MOST don't have? In fact, this has been the trend for the last four years, you'd think we might have a clue about what's causing high college remediation rates and be solving the issue not trolling the water for more data to show our poor college preparedness.
In closing, it is frustrating that apparently Mrs. Hofmeister - while soliciting comments from others - is continuing to listen to the crowd originally for Common Core, which is the same crowd that continues to push ACT testing. Please look at the OSDE's press release about the ACT today and note those providing comment; the PTA, Senator John Ford, General Lee Baxter (plaintiff on the lawsuit to stop the Common Core repeal), John Erickson of ACT and CCOSA. Though I want to believe the best, it's hard to do so when these associations continue to be so influential. After all, haven't we all been told at least some time in our lives that we are known by our associations?

**During the writing of this blog, I went out to the State Department of Ed website to see if I could find graduation totals in order to do a bit of fact-checking, however, I was unable to find a total other than for each school/district and without an hour to do the addition, I moved on. ACT does have their State Profile Report for 2014 online and, while it doesn't provide a percentage of Oklahoma students who took the ACT in 2014, there are other stats reported there of interest.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dr. James Milgram Has Harsh Words For Oklahoma's New Math Standards Draft

James Milgram is a professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University. He served on the validation committee for the Common Core mathematics where he did not sign off on the standards. ROPE asked the Standards Writing Committee to include Dr. Milgram in the standards writing process in some way, but his expertise went unused.

The following information was sent to us by Dr. Milgram after asking him to comment on the drafts made available online. 

1) From what I can tell, no one on the Oklahoma Mathematics standards writing committee has a college degree in Mathematics, in particular, no one appears to have a PhD in Mathematics; the committee members all appear to have degrees in Education (some in Math Education). I believe that without degrees in the pure subject of Mathematics, the members of the committee are not fully qualified to write Mathematics standards for the state of Oklahoma.

Agreed. I went somewhat further and checked the qualifications of the 4 members identified as university faculty members. One is a specialist in remediation, something worth having but all three of the others show no evidence of any knowledge of actual mathematics beyond the most elementary – and I mean elementary. Their expertise appears to be focused on no more than the first 2 to 3 grades. Also, nobody on the committee appears to even be qualified to handle things at the level of any high school material past a weak Algebra II course. In fact this draft standards cuts off well before the Common Core math standards, which were, as numerous people have pointed out, themselves far below the expected level of high school mathematics necessary for students wishing to major in technical areas including STEM in a solid four year college or university.

2) In the early grades, the Standards do not specify that students learn, practice, memorize, and be able to demonstrate instant, accurate recall of the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division up to at least 10s, preferably 12’s or 15’s. This is certainly true. But there are far more problems than just this (as serious as it is). Here is a brief rundown of the first grade standards that were so imprecise - or more likely actually incorrect mathematically - that I couldn’t make sense of them as written.
1.A.1.1, 1.A.1.2: Imprecise to the degree that I can’t understand what they mean. Create and extend repeating or growing patterns etc. On what basis? are the students given rules for how to extend or not. If not, then this has nothing to do with mathematics, and will, later, very negatively impact the liklihood of students being successful in the area.
1.N.1.1 Does this have anything to do with actual mathematics? If so show me the research. Here’s the normal way this goes. One “recognizes” and names the Symbol (e.g., ten frames, arrays, etc) and one might or might not count the number of each, but one does not see the number that these objects are expected to represent.
1.N.1.2 Where did the “in terms of tens and ones” suddenly come from? Students should still be counting, it is almost certainly too early to introduce base ten place value notation.
1.N.1.3 Represent? Come on! Would this committee like to define “represent” and send me a recording of the session. My suspicion is that, at least in mathematical terms, virtually nobody on that committee understands what they are talking about. To be specific, base 2 place value notation is a very natural way of representing numbers, as is base 3 or base 5. Is this what you mean. I hope not! Likewise what do you mean by read and write? I think what you mean is make the English sound for the symbol “5” or the symbol “7”, but this is virtually anti-mathematics. After all, the committee should know that the sounds in Spanish or German for these same symbols are completely different, but mathematically, they represent the same number.
1.N.1.8 Do you really mean “equivalence.” I think not. I think equivalence is far too sophisticated to even talk about before, at earliest, sixth or seventh grade. I think what you really want to say is “equality.” It does not speak well for the competence of this committee to make mistakes like this.
1.N.2.1 – 1.N.2.3: These three standards together are virtually identical to the single most criticized and ridiculed first grade standard in the Common Core. Please look at both John Stewart’s and Steven Colbert’s discussion of the Common Core mathematics standards for clarification.
1.N.3.1 I don’t know what you can mean here. Using physical models it seems very, very difficult to partition. But it is fairly easy to use physical models to construct polygons from equal pieces. There is a vast difference between partitioning and combining.
1.N.4 This is actually a very good section. The failure to handle coinage is one of the most glaring issues with the Common Core in the early grades.
1.GM.1.1: Probably too advanced for first grade. See my comments above.
1.GM.2.2: As written, total nonsense. Length is absolute, it is the measurement of length that depends on the size of the unit. Get it? There is a distinction between the mathematical concept length, and the particular ways in which one might assign a number to that length.
3) Grade 2.
2.A1.1, 2.A1.2 Same issues as with the corresponding first grade standards.
2.A.2.2 What on earth is “number sense?” What does it mean to say “Introduction to properties, but not mastery of vocabulary.” After all, vocabulary is not mathematics. Properties probably are. The test is whether things change in different languages.
2.N.1.1 “Read, write, discuss, and represent.” Read, write and discuss do not have any mathematical significance. And I think that instead of represent a number you mean the reverse, determine the number that represents the cardinality of a small finite set.
2.N.1.5 “emphasis on understanding how to round instead of memorizing the rules for rounding.” How to round is a sequence of (somewhat arbitrary) rules so this completely confuses me.
2.N.2.1 Amazingly like 1.N.2.1 – 1.N.2.3, and it will and should be soundly criticized.
2.N.2.2 is way too low level for second grade. It is more appropriate for Kindergarten or first grade.
2.N.2.4 seems to be a way of suggestion practice with the standard algorithms for addition and subtraction without mentioning the terms. It would really be simpler to just say “Use the standard algorithms to add and subtract two and three digit numbers.”
2.N.3.1 It might be too soon to introduce fractions. Also, as usual, the committee has reversed the meaning of represent.
Much of grade three appears to be too advanced, comprising material that us usually done in the fourth grade, even in the high achieving countries.

4) In the middle grades, the standards do not emphasize the teaching and learning of standard formulas for the computation of area of various geometric shapes, etc. Instead, the standards seem to emphasize students inventing their own formulas. (Inventing formulas may have value for advanced students after they have learned thoroughly the standard formulas).

This does not bother me so much, though it would be helpful if you were to give me examples of specific standards. Then I could comment more accurately. Overall, I felt that the fifth sixth and seventh grade standards were better than average for the states, though the coverage of ratios and rates (particularly rates) was somewhat skimpy. There should have been much more attention paid to problems involving motion at constant speed and flow at constant rates. This is what is done in the high achieving countries. Moreover, these kinds of problems occur much earlier there than in this country and by sixth grade are far more involved than anything our kids will see at least until pre-calculus.

Of course there are still problems in these grades. For example, look at 7.N.2.3. It has already been pointed out that the rational numbers include integers, fractions, terminating decimals, and, moreover, that every rational number expands as an ultimately periodic infinite decimal. Moreover, every ultimately periodic infinite decimal is a rational number, though this is NOT CLEARLY STATED. But assume this early standard has been fixed so students are expected to understand this characterization of rational numbers.

a/b ± c/d = (ad ± bc)/bd. And the only known “algorithm” is to apply this definition directly. It is also known that for arbitrary infinite decimals there is not and cannot be any efficient and finite algorithm for any of the 4 basic operations. Thus, we must conclude that 7.N.2.3 is simply incorrect and must be entirely revised.

Also, consider 7.GM.3.1. This purports to give definitions of area and volume. But both are incorrect since it is usually impossible to even exactly fill even a reasonably nice three dimensional region such as a triangular prism with cubes without gaps or overlaps.

Indeed, one is virtually forced to talk about limits when discussing volume and area, but limits are far beyond the expectations for seventh grade, even in the high achieving countries. 7.GM.3.1 needs to be completely rethought and revised.

When we get to Algebra, things start to go south again. But most of the issues I’ve found are also present in the Common Core which appears to be very (probably too) similar. For example, look at PA.N.1.3.

It is also important to note that key topics that are even present in Common Core (which is famously devoid of any discussion of pre-calculus, calculus, as well as a lot of standard material in Algebra II, trigonometry and even geometry) are not present at all in these draft standards. Thus, except for one mention of right triangle trigonometry in the introduction to the Oklahoma Standards for Geometry, there is no discussion of trigonometry at all, and there are only two mentions of rational functions (A2,F.1.8 and A2.F.1.9)

Likewise the only mention of matrices occurs in A2.N.3.1 - A2.N.3.3, and even the weak discussion of matrices in Common Core is far better than this.

6) To answer the argument that not all students desire to enter STEM majors or elite universities, I suggest that Oklahoma high schools offer three diploma tracks for mathematics:
1) Work-Ready Diploma (students not going to college: minimum of Algebra II).
2) General College-Ready Diploma (students going to community or state colleges: minimum of Pre-Calculus/Trigonometry).
3) Elite College/STEM-Ready Diploma (students desiring to attend elite universities or to enter STEM majors: minimum of Calculus I).
Agreed, but where does this argument appear?