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MUSD math challenge is more than just 1+1=2

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POSTED October 31, 2017 1:20 a.m.

A shift in state testing has created a situation in math that at first glance doesn’t add up for the Manteca Unified School District.
Teachers are successful at helping students achieve content level knowledge in math when it comes to California Content Standards by teaching as they have in the past. Ongoing testing and proficiency exams verify that. But when it comes to the third year of California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress testing, Manteca Unified School District’s 23,900 students overall aren’t meeting the new goals.
How can Manteca Unified do well meeting state mandated content standards when it comes to math but then on the CASPP tests perform below state expectations?
“The new assessments test for a different objective,” noted Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher.
In short, the state is no longer just assessing the success of teaching individual content standards but has added what has been dubbed “mathematical practices.” That means it is not good enough to simply get the right answer but to have a firm grasp of “why” the answer is correct and “how” the answer was reached.
Goatcher said the practices “are a new level of engaging with the standards” that moves them beyond simply being a rote memorization process. The goal is to enhance command of mathematics so students can better compete in a changing world driven by tech.

Testing has different
objectives than just
getting answers right
Among the objectives that involves are:
uMaking sense of problems and persevering to solve them.
uLooking for and expressing regularity in repeated reasoning.
uConstructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.
uReasoning abstractly and quantitatively.
One example of what that would allow is for a student to quickly understand why someone would give a store clerk a $10 bill, a $1 bill and 8 cents to pay for a $5.83 bill.
“That’s because the person wants a $5 bill and a quarter back,” Goatcher noted.
The aim of mathematical practices is to understand the “why” and “how” of such challenges as making change that is not straight forward and successfully tackling much more complicated challenges needed in science and technology fields.
The ability of a state test to determine how will a student grasps mathematical practices was made possible by the switch to assessment tests being taken on computers.
What that allows is for the test program to give harder or easier questions, based on correct and incorrect answers as students go from one question to another. It allows the test to drill down to an individual’s command of math and where they are lacking.
In addition students are not asked the same question. That, as well as the next questions being chosen by a computer program based on whether a question is answered correctly makes it impossible to teach to the tests as some school districts did with the former STAR testing.
The new tests also provides a valuable tool for teachers, parents and students alike that the STAR test never did — personalized results and assessments that can be used to target what students need to work on.
The current math textbooks were adopted during the 2014-2015 school year. During the last three years, staff received focused training on using the new materials from publishers, colleagues, and others through the district’s Department of Professional Training. Additional training and support has been provided by site personnel such as program coordinators, department chairs, and teacher leaders. More than several hundred training opportunities were provided to teachers.

Teachers adjusting
to equip students with
an understanding of
processing needs for
today’s tech driven world
In light of the math results on the assessment dropping slightly last year, teachers and coordinators are closely examining the data and instructional practices side by side. The district is in the process of having discussions with classroom experts and developing strategies that will begin to address the testing assessment goals while continuing to learn content standards.
“As you can tell with all these new levels of standards they go just beyond solving a problem,” Goatcher noted. “They move into the conceptual practice of do you understand why you are using the process you are using and then come up with a different process to answer real-world scenarios.”
The third year of CASPP tests for Manteca Unified students showed across the board improvement in testing for English language arts and literacy proficiency save for a slight dip at the fifth and 11th grade levels. All grade levels improved between 2015 and 2016 with scores in 2017 all above the initial testing year in 2015.
Overall the percentage of Manteca Unified students exceeding or meeting the standard was at 41 percent in 2016 for English and literacy proficiency. That compares to 35 percent for 2014 and 39 percent for 2015.  
 It was a mixed bag for math. Manteca Unified students at the sixth and seventh grade showed improvement, eighth grade was unchanged, and slight declines were recorded at the third, fourth, fifth and 11th grades. Eighth grade students showed no change in test results in terms of the percentage of students that met or exceeded standards. Overall the percentage of Manteca Unified students exceeding or meeting the standard was at 25 percent in 2016 for math. That compares to 24 percent for 2014 and 25 percent for 2015.  
“MUSD has adopted the attitude that it will never be satisfied with results until all students meet their individual potentials,” Goatcher added. “All our school sites look at student results each year to start planning on how we can better serve our students. We find what works one year may not work the next year because our students’ needs may have changed.”

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