Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Math Placement Research
It is that crazy time of year, and I would guess that many of you are dealing with math placement decisions for your students. The following link has an interesting article about the effect that math placement has on certain students.
“More challenging middle-school math classes and increased access to advanced courses in predominantly black urban high schools may be the key to closing the racial academic achievement gap, according to a University of Illinois study. "
Here are a couple of quotes from the article that really made me think.
Students who take more advanced math courses in middle school lengthen their lead over time, and the positive school-related behaviors developed in those advanced courses lead to even higher achievement.
Being in a classroom where the expectations are higher, the course work is more rigorous, and the climate is more academic has huge effects on student effort.
These finding don’t surprise me because I have seen this happen with my students, but it is great to see research that backs up my instincts. So my questions are, “so what?” and “what now?”
- What implications does this have for our students?
- How can we use this information to help students?
- How can we duplicate the positive effect of advanced classes for students who are not advanced?
- If we put everyone into "advanced" classes, would they still be "advanced?"
- Should we pick promising students to "place" into advanced classes even if they don't "qualify?"
What are your thoughts?
In my first year of teaching eighth grade math, the students were divided into classes based on test scores and teacher recommendations. The "lower" group took Pre-Algebra and the "higher" group took Algebra 1. Overall, students had similar placement in high school. My personal opinion is that some of the higher students were learning the more advanced material necessary, but they missed some of the basic skills that are staples of mathematics--skills the Pre-Algebra students had more opportunities to master. This past year, the classes were still grouped in the same way, but both classes started with Pre-Algebra and moved into Algebra 1. All students seemed to handle the course information in similar ways, which proved to me that all students have the abilities to learn the material.
I think the best way to make sure all students are learning the necessary information, and not just what's on the standardized tests, is to give all of them the opportunity to learn the same information. The difficult task is for the teacher to make the information understandable for them. I found that the "lower" group just needs some different approaches on my part (repeated explanations, extra examples, modeling, visuals, etc...).
I am curious to learn of other teachers' experiences and opinions on this matter. I often question if there is a better approach to making sure all of my students are learning and developing the math skills necessary to do well in high school (and life!).
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