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The limit of test retakes as testing approaches infinity

Bill Hanlon
Bill Hanlon

Math is unlike other subjects, sequencing and mastery of topics are essential as students progress through the curriculum.

The Clark County School District’s superintendent is proposing a grading solution that will not only negatively impact math instruction, but since math is the cornerstone on which science, engineering and technology are built upon, the grading proposal will also negatively impact our STEM initiative.

Playing with grading systems, report cards, etc. is not addressing the real issue facing our students. The real issue is, and has been, teacher quality. NV has a documented shortage of math teachers since 1985, that’s over 35 years.

That shortage has resulted in our students being taught by less than qualified staff. To cover that up, the district has hired people without degrees in the subject and relied on teachers with education degrees with math emphasis, alternative route to teacher licensure, such as TFA, long-term substitutes, daily short term or non-math teachers covering math periods when there are no subs available.

Sadly, the school administrators evaluating and supervising math teachers generally know a great deal less than the math teachers they are supervising. They have not, and cannot, provide recommendations in math content strategies that might actually improve instruction and help students learn.

Math is made more difficult for students when taught by teachers without the needed content knowledge – that has resulted in increased student failures and grade inflation.

We have eliminated semester exams, the high school exit exams and pushed students into the next course unprepared as ways to demonstrate progress. And now we are trying to install system-wide grade inflation with grading and report cards fixes which do not address classroom instruction and only camouflage the real issues students face.

Education Week reported just this past week that only one in four seniors performed proficiently in math based on the 2019 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card).

NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) has also found that more students at all proficiency levels have started taking more advanced math courses, such as calculus and trig, but not surprisingly, that more advanced work has not, has not, translated to greater understanding of mathematics. We saw these same kinds of results in earlier studies that showed when students were pushed into algebra classes before they were ready they performed worse than students who did not four years later. Foundations matter!

The percentage of 4th graders performing below the basic achievement level in science rose significantly in the last decade, to 27 percent, while the percentage at or above the “proficient” level fell in the same time, to 36 percent.

Clark County and Nevada in general has a problem that superintendents refuse to acknowledge publicly – teacher quality.

We have a very practical solution that results in improved grades, increased student achievement while addressing teachers’ preparation, improved instruction, holding students accountable, and a plan that parents support and feel is more than fair for their children. That solution is implementing the “6+1” Strategies that connect teachers’ preparation (which include identifying linkages, simple straight-forward examples, scaffolding, creating tests, etc.) to instruction (including the daily QCRP, CFP & weekly quizzes), student notes & homework that reflect and support those, test prep and assessments; the plus one stresses the importance of student-teacher relationships.

Those strategies have built in the linkages, understanding and the repetition struggling students need to be successful in math. Those strategies, when implemented fully, have resulted in exactly what superintendents are trying to address – higher grades, fewer failures – but more importantly actual increased student achievement and understanding.

The trustees should not approve the superintendent’s proposal that allows students to continually retake tests until they get the grade they want.

Bill Hanlon served on the Nevada State Board of Education, Regional Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) and as a member of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) States Partnership Board.

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