Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking down standards and next steps

I'm sort of in that back-to-school excitement/denial.  I mean, how can you not be excited about new school supplies and a fresh start?  But at the same time, waking up whenever I want to and no lesson planning is pretty darn sweet.  So I have been dipping my adorably Summer pedicured toes, slowly back into work mode.  What does that mean?  Well, in addition to pinning lots of new stuff to my Education/Work/Teaching/Math Pinterest board, today that meant taking a look at my scope and sequence for the 2014-15 school year.  As a math team, we did some work on our scope and sequences at the end of last school year, which was nice, but as we get closer and closer to d-day (the first day of school) it's time to really get into it and figure stuff out.

The problem with making a long term plan, while working in the DOE, is that things can change in an instant.  For example, I may learn that we will have mandatory period assessments that will be aligned to a very specific sequence, and if I don't follow that sequence, then the data from these assessments would be useless.  Another potential problem could be that I could spend all my time planning for one grade, only to be told, a few days before school starts that I will in fact be teaching a different grade (true story, two years ago, btw).  So I've learned that sometimes planning ahead of time, just ends up being a waste of time, and the older I get, my time is becoming much more valuable.

So where does that leave me?  Well today that meant taking a look at the Common Core State Standards for 7th grade.  After all, no matter what curriculum I use, or what scope and sequence I follow, or what assessments I give, the standards are bottom line.  Here in NY we've been using the CCSS for a few years now.  This will be my third year teaching 7th grade with the new standards, so I know them.  But do I really, know them?  So they were my starting point.  I created this Google Doc, to help organize the 7th grade math standards for myself.  It breaks the five domains into the 43 standards that my scholars must understand by June 2015.  Some of the standards have example questions, which a separated out, and it also identifies the priority/post standards, and test percentage break downs.  For me, it's a start and a way to get reacquainted with what I will be teaching over the next 10 months.

Also today, I learned today that they released 50% of the 2014 math state test questions, which is an increase from 25% in 2013.  This is definitely a step in the right direction because it gives us a better idea of the types of questions, although this is still not going to help when we analyze the item analysis from the test because we won't be able to see the actual test.  Oh well, it's the little things, right?

Finally today, I took another peek at the state test data that was released.  Initially, I was OK with it, but the more I looked at it, the sadder (angrier?) I got.  28% of my students this year were at or above grade level (level 3 or 4 on the state test).  48% were approaching, and 24% were below.  Now, mind you 22% of my students last year were at or above grade level, 48% were approaching, and 30% were below.  So, the numbers went in the right direction, but I am disappointed.  28% is not a lot.  It's progress, but not where I need to be.  My kids deserve better.  Even worse, only 18% of the incoming 7th graders were at or above grade level.  So my work is definitely cut out for me this year.

What does this data all mean?  Well, for me, a big part of it is curriculum.  I've used the Connected Math Program, which is a great inquiry-based math curriculum, for the last two years with my students.  I really like it, but my big concern is that my students don't get a lot of practice in the skills that they need (plus the implementation of CMP3 in the DOE last year was horrible, but that's another post), so at the end of last year I was pretty set to follow a more direct-teaching curriculum this year.  But then the data came in and I don't know.  Not only did my current students improve, but my former 7th graders did well too (as 8th graders).  I know I can't take all the credit for that, but maybe, just maybe, the inquiry-based curriculum helped them become better math learners, at least a little bit?  7th grade and middle school in general, I feel, is a big make-or-break year.  Not to say that if a student does bad, they are doomed, but I feel like you really begin deciding if going further in math is for you.

Wow, this post was way longer than I planned it to be.  I guess I had  a lot to say about going back to work after all?

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