Saturday, May 23, 2020

Students' math achievement during remote learning and teaching

It is difficult to accurately assess student learning gains during remote learning and teaching since when students complete their studies at home, we never know if they are completing these assignments on their own or with significant help. We can look for trends, however, via the compilation of their attendance at virtual lessons, completion of study expectations, and the assessments they are taking at home to get an idea of how students are doing.

Recently families received letters about math placement in Middle School. There are three Middle School math groups. An advanced group for students who learn fast and are ahead of curriculum expectations, a middle group for students who are meeting grade-level standards, and a smaller extra-help group for students who need a more tailored, specialized approach to math learning at this time. Of course, many families want to see their children in the advanced group because they feel that is the best group for their child, and placing children becomes difficult especially for those children who fall close to one group or another. What is a teacher to do?

First, we have a fair algorithm that scores each child's work altogether, and that score places a child in one group or another. For children who fall on the line between one group or another, we typically reach out to families and/or colleagues for consult. Then we make our recommendations. If a parent does not agree with the recommendation, they have the opportunity to override the decision. As a parent, I had one child who fell on the line and two that fell solidly in one group or another. In all cases, my sons ended up in groups that were good matches for their abilities. Later I did override a teacher's decision for one of my sons because the information that I knew about my son made me confident that a different group would be better. I was happy that I made the decision and the teacher was respectful.

I will do the same with regard to parents who override the recommendation. I will be respectful knowing that no one system is perfect, yet as our placement letter suggests, our process has proved to be beneficial and by the end of high school almost all the students in our system score in the advanced range in math on the state tests. To a large part this is because students get what they need with regard to math education including size of groups, support, practice opportunities, dedicated teachers, and a solid teaching/learning program throughout the grades.

Going forward, I want to think more about how I will promote apt math teaching and learning throughout the year so that placement recommendations are not a surprise to families. I can do this in the following ways:
  • Make math expectations explicit to students and families at the start of the year.
  • Inform families about the placement process at the start of the school year so that it's not a surprise at the end of the year. 
  • Be clear with students and families about students' test, project, and practice assignment scores, performance, interests, and needs throughout the year. 
  • Make math teaching and learning a priority and stay faithful to the math learning schedule by teaching all standards in deep and meaningful ways that includes plenty of time and practice.
  • Provide both remedial and enrichment opportunities.
Of course this year's remote learning and teaching situation due to the pandemic makes this process more complicated. Some students who were modest students in class are thriving at home due to the significant one-to-one daily support they are getting for math teaching and learning from family members who are home. Others who were doing a good job with school's steady math teaching and learning program are struggling due to inconsistent at-home study schedules, lack of support for multiple reasons, and little attendance at remote teaching meetings. The remote learning/teaching landscape has impacted math performance in many different ways for our students--ways that we will continue to analyze and study in the days ahead.

What we know about teaching math well whether the teaching is virtual or in the school building is that math learning always benefits from well prepared learning experiences, a teacher's expertise with the topic, daily attention via teaching and practice, formative assessments to inform the program, and targeted coaching that includes brain-friendly tools and processes for apt learning. 

The students overall have learned a lot of math this year. They came to fifth grade with solid math skills, concept, and knowledge thanks to the efforts of family members, teachers, tutors, special programs, and more. Students demonstrated terrific growth in fifth grade and are ready for next year's thoughtful math program at the Middle School. I am proud of this effort and will continue to work with colleagues and family members to continue to develop what we can do to help every child achieve in meaningful and beneficial ways. Onward.