Malbert Smith III, Ph.D.,
Co-Founder and President of MetaMetrics
Just last week, I was invited to speak at the CCSSO Rural Chiefs Conference in Kansas City on the topic of “Supporting Math Differentiation in a Common Core World”. While there is much written and discussed on the idea of differentiated instruction, in practice there are limited tools and resources to support math differentiation, a deficiency well-documented in this recent Ed Week article, ‘’Educators in Search of Common Core Resources”.
A theme permeating much of my presentation was the neglect of math in our country. By almost any measure, e.g. instructional time, professional development, number of assessments, instructional programs, etc., math runs a distant second to reading in the amount of instructional attention given. At least part of the challenge we face in addressing our math crisis in K-12 education will require that we remedy this neglect.
In my suggestions for addressing this imbalance I focused on four critical strategies. While the adoption of the CCSS is a significant first step in the right direction, its real success will rest upon how effectively we implement these standards. It is critical that we recognize that math – like any other skill - can be learned. Too often we subscribe, consciously and unconsciously, to the notion that math achievement is an inherent ability, as if math achievement was based on a “math gene”. If we take more of a Carolyn Dweck growth perspective, as opposed to a fixed mind set, we will go a long way toward promoting the idea that math achievement is possible for all of our students.
Secondly, we need to build math tools and resources that support differentiated instruction. Once, when leading a math workshop for a school district, the head of the math department informed me, tongue in cheek, that all math teachers know how to differentiate instruction: “We say it louder and we repeat it.” Yet I suspect we have all seen variations of this model, this when we continue to drill a student on a math problem or concept to no avail. Meaningful differentiated instruction is really only possible when we are able to measure a student’s math level and the difficulty of the math concepts and skills on a common scale. This possibility is now a reality with the Quantile Framework for Mathematics. Once you know a student’s Quantile measure you know what math skills they are ready to learn. And just as importantly, one can make sure that the learner has acquired the necessary pre-requisite skills. Unfortunately, we often continue to employ the “repeat louder” model and fail to provide differentiated content and instruction to meet the unique needs of the learner.
A third and critical step towards applying the math growth trajectory for all students is mitigating the devastating effects of summer loss. While summer loss in reading mostly impacts our low income students, summer loss in math impacts students across socioeconomic levels. During the summer months, we need to draw the same attention to math as we currently do to reading. On our website (www.quantiles.com) we have built a free utility, Math at Home, which teachers, parents, and students can use to address this issue.
Fourth, students need access to personalized learning platforms that promote the basic elements of deliberate practice. Differentiated instruction through personalized learning platforms enable the learner to move through a learning progression of math skills at the right time, pace, and level. The underlying engines for the delivery of content within these platforms will require the use of vertical scales, like the Quantile scale, so that the math level of the learner can be matched to the appropriate mathematics material. Computer adaptive delivery of content and assessment require a common vertical scale that links student to skills. And the Quantile Framework for Mathematics provides that link.
With the advent of the CCSS we are starting to have the right national conversations about mathematics instruction. At MetaMetrics, we are dedicated to building the resources and tools to support differentiated instruction and help all students improve their math skills.
A thank you to Jason Turner for contributing this guest post blog about maintaining math skills over the summer to the Math Hub. Jason is the Director of Professional Development at MetaMetrics Inc.
Summer is finally here. And for many students, an extended summer break means time spent with friends and family, summer jobs, camps, and well-deserved vacations. Unfortunately, for many students, a break in the school year also means a break from all academic activity, meaning that they could return to school with their math and reading abilities somewhat diminished from just three months earlier. This loss has been well researched, and many education reformers now consider fighting summer loss an important part of any serious education reform agenda.
The effects of summer learning loss in both math and reading have been well documented. Low-income students are especially susceptible to the corrosive effects of long interruptions in academic life. The reasons for this are complex, but it’s safe to say that in many cases low-income students do not enjoy the same academic opportunities (e.g. summer camps, academic retreats, tutors, etc.) as their high-income peers. Add in the fact that many low-income students may go home to text-free zones (lacking books, magazines, and newspapers) and it’s easy to see why the reading skills of so many students deteriorate over the summer months.
In mathematics the picture is even more dismal. Regardless of socio-economic levels, students experience a significant amount of learning loss in math. Though many states and districts offer multiple and intensive summer reading initiatives, too few have undertaken serious efforts to address the loss students experience in math. Admittedly, keeping students engaged in math activities during the summer is more difficult than engaging them in reading. There simply aren’t as many meaningful math resources available for students.
While it’s easy to dismiss summer slide as a fact of academic life, the consequences are profound. The learning loss that occurs each summer has an unfortunate cumulative effect. Add up the amount of learning loss over twelve consecutive summers, and the resulting gap is the difference between those that are prepared for the rigors of college and career and those that are not. It’s easy to see that any hiccup in the trajectory toward college and/or career represents a setback that can make a tremendous difference to where the student ends up.
One possible solution to summer slide would be to increase instructional time, which need not always mean more time in the classroom. Extending the school year can be done in a variety of ways, including providing students with resources that supplement and reinforce the skills and concepts acquired during the school year. In math especially, it is imperative that students continue to stay engaged in activities. Engagement does not necessarily mean learning new concepts and skills. During an academic hiatus, staying engaged in math may simply be brushing up and supplementing last year’s lessons.
For example, one specific solution is offered by MetaMetrics’ free online tool, Math@Home (full disclosure: I’m the Professional Development Director at MetaMetrics). Math@Home provides students (or educators or parents) with free, targeted math resources – like websites, worksheets, video tutorials, skill sheets, etc. – that support the textbook lessons studied throughout the year. Math@Home relies on a student’s Quantile measure as a way to target the student at just the right level of difficulty, though students can still use Math@Home even without a Quantile measure. Students and teachers have the ability to build specific lists of math resources to save for a later date. Best of all, Math@Home’s social networking features allow students and teachers to share multiple resource lists with others through e-mail and even post favorite math activities to Facebook and Twitter.
There are any number of ways to support year-round learning. Math@Home is just one way that educators and parents can keep students engaged in math activity throughout the summer months. As the focus shifts from proficiency to college and career readiness, it is critically important that educators and parents ensure that summer months are used to reinforce last year’s lessons and to prevent the pernicious effects of summer learning loss.