What does “College Readiness” really mean for math class? I mean… really…

This post has questions. No answers in this post. Just questions.

I just spent the better part of a day exploring the SAT test (which Michigan has recently adopted as the test that all high school juniors will take as a “college readiness” test.)

I also read this Slate article which speaks to people who feel like they aren’t “math people.”

As I continue to listen to various groups chime in with that they think kids need with respect to the mathematics portions of our various educational systems, there seem to be a few ideas that are coming out.

The first two are usually close-to-unanimously agreed upon.

  1. All young people… ALL… young people have a God-given right to a high-quality education.
  2. A high-quality education includes a significant amount of mathematics beyond basic numeracy.

Beyond that, the overarching ideas push into value-based philosophies about what the author or speaker believes are in the best interest of American young people. These are definitely thoughts where two reasonable people could find areas of disagreement.

3.  An education earns the title “high-quality” when the receiver can use it to                    successfully take the desired next steps after it’s done. “Next steps” are                      generally considered one of the following: A. going to college, B. going to                    work, C. going into the military, D. starting a family or E. any combination                    thereof. No one necessarily more noble or challenging than the others.

4. The overseers of those areas are the authority on what is required to be                     able to successfully join those communities. College professors, business                   leaders, military leaders, and church leaders all have a reasonable                             expectation that they would influence the courses of study that lead into                     those individual arenas.

If we push these thoughts to the next level, it becomes reasonable to assume that college professors, business leaders, military leaders and church leaders are going to quite often disagree on the necessary requirements for an education to be considered “successful”. What’s more, there will be large segments of the general public who would prefer one or two of those get a larger say than the others. Certain groups of people would prefer that college professors should have the last say. The incredible number of religious private schools speak volumes to our public’s desire to allow their particular faith to have the ultimate say in the educational program.

And math doesn’t get a free pass in these disagreements. You will see wide differences in the types of mathematical content that are preferred as well as the instructional and assessment methods. The nationwide introduction of Common Core has demonstrated that math curriculum can trigger some very negative responses from significant portions of the American public.

And the fact that nationwide, our school systems are “public” empowers the general public to have a say. In fact, this is often a tricky balancing act for education professionals. There is a certain amount of background knowledge necessary to make sound decisions within the field of education. But, practically every single adult walking the streets has a decade (give-or-take a year or two) of experience within the field of education. There is a certain amount of boldness that that kind of familiarity breeds.

Result: Everyone has an opinion on how education should look. And that opinion is largely based on the relative satisfaction that the opinion-bearer feels when he/she reflects on his/her past experiences.

That is a very good thing with some inconvenient consequences. One of those inconvenient consequences arises when legislators get involved. The American public has an oddly-trusting, yet often cynical relationship with their elected officials. Most people have very few good things to say about them. But when it comes to their own personal beliefs about society, getting their views enshrined into law become the highest priority. You can see this on both sides of the political spectrum. These institutions disgust us and we don’t trust them, but we want them on our side. It’s an odd paradox.

This paradox extends into the fields of education where, at least here in Michigan, the state government has made several plays that are tipping the scales in terms of which of the aforementioned groups is getting the state favor. As a result, “College-and-Career Readiness” is becoming cliche.

But our familiarity with it doesn’t mean that we have any idea what to do with it. Moreover, it doesn’t even mean that the general public has agreed upon definitions of “college ready” or “career ready.” The state has just solidified those two arenas as the goals.

It’s our job as educators to figure out how we are setting up our classrooms, schools, and districts to maximize our impact on young people toward those goals.

In my next post, I am going to lay out the primary issue that is creating this inner conflict I feel…

Reading.

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Why aren’t more people talking about this?

About a week ago, Common Dreams reported on growing boycott of standardized testing coming out of Seattle.

I heard about it through an e-mail from a former professor of mine. When I posted it to Facebook, it got 2 likes, 1 share and a single comment (that also got 2 likes). Not a lot of interest.

There is also a growing number of post-secondary institutions that are shying away from ACT and SAT results when making admissions decisions. You can read the list of schools here. It isn’t a short list.

So, why isn’t this story of more intrigue to people? Standardized testing has become the means through which we make most of the decisions across the country. Whether you support them or not, why isn’t a growing boycott a bigger story?

To me, this is a great opportunity. If more school’s get on board and some momentum can be  built, this a fantastic chance for conversation to begin. Not a conversation about which test to give, or what content to test, but instead whether or not standardized testing is an effective means of evaluation.

I’ve talked about this before. In The Growing Case Against Standardized Testing, I reveal my hand as a skeptic of testing as it is currently done. I would love the conversation to get going because I think that educational community needs to produce answers to some key questions:

1. Do we have an agreed upon definition or description of a “successful” school? Have we done any studies to demonstrate the standardized testing process is an accurate predictor of a school’s “success”?

2. Why do we have so much faith in the standardized test results? What have we done to ensure the fidelity of the results?

3. Why is important that students get tested so often?

4. Do we have an agreed upon definition of a “successful” student? Are we convinced that test results are a predictor of current or future success of an individual student?

All of these questions get at the heart of Standardized Testing. There is a growing body of evidence that is piling up against the standardized testing model as an effective means of evaluating anything… a school, a student, a teacher, a leadership team, or a community, but policy makers seems to be taking no notice.

So, I ask again: when a major public school system has schools that are boycotting the tests and major universities are ignoring the results, why aren’t more people talking about this?