Archive for September, 2010

State Assessment Review Day 2

September 29, 2010 6 comments

Today was day 2 of the state assessment review.  I am really enjoying the process and the chance to interact with a wide variety of teachers from high schools and colleges.  It is so nice to be with other educators and discuss how their schools are handling different items.

Tennessee was one of the first two states to earn Race to the Top funds (Obama money).  We no longer call the initiative “Race to the Top,” but “First to the Top.”  I had a chance to talk with Scott Eddins today (in a small group setting; I’m not that important).  Scott is in charge of Math Education for the State of TN.  He seems to be really honest and sympathize with the teachers’ plight.  Scott clarified a few items regarding the new standards and I wanted to share some insights with my fellow TN teachers.  (If you are not from TN, it might interest you.  It seems to align with the American Diploma Project and National Standards.)

1.  Middle School and Placement Issues (Taking Algebra in the 8th grade)  Currently, approximately 150 students in the feeder school for my high school take Algebra in the 8th grade.  This is a huge issue.  Not all of those students are honor level students.  Mr. Eddins said the state is suggesting that no more than 1/5 of 8th grade student population should be enrolled in Algebra in the 8th grade.  It was also stressed that students entering 8th grade should only enroll in Algebra if they have scored proficient or advanced on their 7th grade TCAP test in mathematics.  (I think this one should be obvious.)  He said that this should be enforced at the local, district level and can not be mandated.  He said that the guidance counselors have been strongly urged to ask 8th graders and parents who express  a desire to enroll in Algebra at the middle school level if their plans involve entering a STEM career and taking Calculus their senior year.  If not, they should not take Algebra until they are a freshman.  (I love this!)

2.  Our Math IV (Advanced Algebra and Trig) Class is an alternative to Pre Calculus Honors.  Students who are on a STEM path should take Pre Calculus Honors and other students can take Advanced Algebra and Trig.  There should not be an honors level Advanced Algebra and Trig.  Students should not take both classes.  There is too much overlap in curriculum.  Both classes have updated standards online.

3.  The State is developing STEM guidelines and students need to declare a path, STEM or notSTEM.  Students taking STEM should progress through PreCalculus and Calculus.  All other students should take Advanced Algebra and Trig, Finite Math, or Bridge Math for a fourth year credit.

4.  Many TN schools are no longer accepting dual enrollment credits for Statistics or Calculus since the AP programs that most high schools offer are a better program for high school students.


1.  Colleges and Universities in TN have agreed to use the End of Course test for Algebra II to place students in the appropriate course for college.

2.    Graphing Calculators are (necessary) strongly suggested for the Algebra II End of Course.  (Ok, my words:  You can not do well on the test without a TI-84!)  Schools can purchase calculators using Formative Assessment funds and Professional Development funds.  Be creative!  Get calculators.  Not only do you need classrooms sets, you need enough for every Algebra II student on your campus to take the EOC at one time.  You can also stagger your students taking the test on test day.

3.  Algebra II should be taught in a block schedule for an entire school year.  This means 1 1/2 hours every day, all year.  There is too much in the curriculum to fit in a semester.  This will help cover the gaps in learning created by the implementation of the new standards.  This should continue for 5 years and then phased out for all students except the standard level student.

I know this list is long, but I think it has some relevant information for all schools in the State of TN.  I have learned so much this week.  I am so blessed to have this chance to work with such inside information.  Helping to create the test that I am ultimately responsible for administering is invaluable.

Categories: Algebra 2, General

State Assessment Review

September 27, 2010 1 comment

I received an invitation about a month ago to attend an End of Course Review Meeting for the State of Tennessee Department of Education (sounds important, doesn’t it?)  I agreed even though I was nervous about leaving my beloved students for 3 days in a row (that’s like 6 on the block schedule).  I am so happy I came!

I signed a confidentiality agreement so I can’t discuss any of the particulars (I love my job and want to keep it), but I do have a few observations that I think are ok to express. 

1.  Questions on a standardized tests go through so many people before they see the light of day.  This means when a student says to me, “Mrs. C. I found a question on the ACT that was wrong,”  the student is probably wrong.  There is a very small chance that every professional who looked at, worked, analyzed, and discussed that question got it wrong.

2. Standards and Objectives are open for interpretation.  In TN, we use something called SPI (State Performance Indicators).  I may read an SPI from the state and create one type of question and you may read the same SPI and create a totally different question.  We may both be right or wrong.  It all comes down to interpretation.

3.  Technology is a fact of our society and our schools should reflect that.  The new standards for TN involve SPI’s like “Utilizing technology the student will…”  The student must have a graphing calculator to solve these questions.  Teachers should be utilizing this in their classrooms daily.  Why would a student ever solve a system of 3 equations in 3 variable with anything other than an 84 in their holster?

4.  Requiring technology is testing the students on the socioeconomic status of their schools.  My students in Algebra 2 each have a graphing calculator.  This may not be true next year.  Right now I am teaching Algebra 2 Honors.  Next year I may teach the standard level of Algebra 2.  I’m not sure how I will teach them regression analysis without a graphing calculator.  (Can you and if you can why would you want to?)  If a student in TN does not have access to a graphing calculator on test day or time to learn with one previous to the test, is that student at a disadvantage?  Overwhelmingly, YES!  So, our you testing the student’s algebra 2 skills or his parents’ ability to purchase a $120 piece of equipment? 

If you ever have the chance to attend a session like this, I highly recommend it.  It is a killer knowing so much inside stuff and not being able to discuss it.  I guess the fear of losing my job definitely outweighs my gift for gab.  My lips are sealed…

Here is a link for our state assessment if you are interested:

Categories: Algebra 2, General

The State of Regression

September 17, 2010 2 comments

I have an idea for a collaboration project in the works and if I ever get free time (insert laughter) I will type it up all nice and pretty and share it.  For now, I thought I would share the idea and see if anyone already has something similar.  (No reason to reinvent the wheel.)

It all started with a Google search on regression models for the US population.

My Algebra II Honors class is teaming up with the Government class to do a joint project.  I was doing some research and was slightly shocked to discover that the population of the United States fits a quadratic model and not an exponential model.  (Gasp!)  I always thought it was exponential since the world population model is exponential.  I discussed this with the Government teacher and she was also intrigued.  We decided to team up.  Her students are going to gather census data for us for each state.  She will assign each student a different state or pair of states.  My Algebra II students will perform regression analysis using LoggerPro.  Each group will also perform a regression for the US. 

I am curious to see if each State follows the National model or if some states are exponential.  The bigger question is why.  This sparked a discussion in the teacher lunchroom yesterday.  (I love working with smart, passionate people.)  We shared ideas like family planning, birth control, and abortion.  This led to us asking if other industrialized Nations also follow a quadratic model or if it is just the US.  I mentioned the idea to my Pre Calculus class and one student volunteered to check England and another Spain.  They want to test the birth control hypothesis using a Catholic Nation.

After my Algebra II class finishes the regression and creates equations, the Government class is going to make predictions and use the information to determine the effects of the population change on the Government and society.  I am really excited about what this project could become.  I love it when students buy into the idea as well.  I’m hoping to inspire them to find their own questions.

Categories: Algebra 2, PreCalculus

Extra Curricular

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I help to lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at my high school.  Today I took a group of 11 students to a leadership training seminar.  There were 35 schools represented at the event.  It was nice to have the opportunity to interact with students outside the walls of the school.  If you are a teacher and you don’t work with students in some capacity outside the classroom, I encourage you to do it.

Before I had children of my own I coached girls’ soccer.  I always thought that teachers didn’t get paid enough, but coaches get the short end of the stick.  I think my pay averaged out to less than 25 cents per hour.  I didn’t do it for the money (do any of us) and I didn’t do it for the recognition (we weren’t very good).  I did it for the fellowship with my students.  I wanted to interact with the girls outside of the classroom.  I wanted to talk to them about something other than math.  (Yes, there is a world beyond math.)  Since my own children have come along, I have no time to coach.

I volunteered for FCA four years ago.  Just about the time of the year I get busy with department chair responsibilities or retesting and tutoring schedules I consider dropping FCA.  I need this post to remind me:  DON”T DROP IT!  It is important for us as teachers to be involved with the student body beyond our classrooms.  It can be the Beta Club, National Honors Society, Mu Alpha Theta (Math Club), Chess Club, Model UN, Mock Trial……  just be involved.  The students know when you have a vested interest in them beyond the classroom.  It’s also amazing what they will tell you outside the school walls.  Some of them just need someone to listen while not sitting behind a desk.

I think sometimes as teachers we forget that some teens are just amazing (especially if you don’t teach honor classes).  They have vision, drive, passion and commitment.  It is important to take a step back and allow the students to lead.  I am blessed to have the chance to work with such an amazing group of students.

Categories: General

Extra What!

September 1, 2010 9 comments

I try to prepare myself and my students every semester for SBG (Standards Based Grading). I explain it multiple times. I send home letters explaining the process and why I do it. I tell my students that they need to be retesting along the way. I also tell my students that they need to do the daily suggested assignments (homework) even though I won’t grade it. I stress to them that they need to do it to solidify the learning that took place in class not because I randomly give them points or check the work. (I don’t check homework. I’ll know if they do it on the Assessment.)

This all sounds good in theory, but here is what happens every semester:

1. I receive the following email in varying forms from varying parents:
My son is typically an a or high B student, so we are a little disturbed by this grade.
(He has a 65% in an Honors class.)

2. A student cries when I hand out progress reports. Yes, every semester. (I’ve never made an F before.)

I know with SBG comes some learning curve for the students. They have to understand the necessity of retesting material. They need to see that retesting will bring an immediate improvement in their grade. The first time they retest I normally let them stand by me as I type the new grade into the computer and watch the magic happen as the grade is updated. I’ve seen grades jump several points with one retest.

I emailed the mother back with a beautiful explanation of SBG and why I do it. I also gave my class a little pep talk and explanation of SBG again. It included the following:

There are many reasons I use this method, but the main reason is to make sure that a student masters the necessary skills to be successful on the End of Course test for this class. It is also to catch any gaps in learning and correct it. I do not want to punish a student with a grade because it takes him or her longer to master a skill. I also don’t want to inflate a student’s grade with frivolous extra credit, grades that do not directly relate to the standards, or busy work. Students earn good grades in my class by learning the material and not by completing work. My students in the past have been very successful with Standards Based Grading.

And then the unthinkable happened… A sweet, innocent girl raised her hand and asked, “Do you give extra credit?”

This is the part where my head exploded. I tried my best to regain composure. “Extra what?!” I then spent the next 10 minutes calling them point chasers. They have been trained to chase after a set number of points so that they can get their precious A. (My precious…   ) They do not earn it by demonstrating knowledge. They earn it by bringing in tissues, hand sanitizer, or bleach wipes for extra credit. Yes this is endorsed at my school as acceptable. (Can you say: “Pat, I would like to buy an A.”)

They write extra credit reports on famous math people (we all know they print them off the internet). No! I’m putting an end to it. You will earn your A in my class through hard work and demonstrating proficiency on the standards. You will not get it for your ability to copy homework. You will not get it by persuading your parents to do the poster project for you. You will not get it by doing some random puzzle or Sudoku. You will earn it!

Categories: General