Dec 2, 2008

Rigor is a challenge

I have the great fortune of working with a smart and dedicated department chair who is also teaching Math B, and we have worked through a number of challenges so far this year. Aside from my learning of the proverbial ropes as a new teacher, we have dealt with the absence of foundational skills (1 - 5 = 4), mass rebellion of students (this is too hard!/you're a bad teacher), high failure rates (50%), excessive absences (about half had over 10% absence, with many much higher) and a curriculum overfull of challenging content. Last year's Math B teacher dealt with this by lowering standards and providing easy ways for students to pass. Last year's Math B teacher only had 3 of 75 pass the Regents.

Our principal has held the line on increasing rigor in our school across the board and we're seeing the results. Students are failing in massive numbers. To hear other teachers talk about it, the students were failing in massive numbers before as well, but teachers and administrators were able to massage the numbers in order to get students to pass. I'm happy that our administration is no longer expecting us to do that, but now a whole bunch of my students are not going to be graduating on time. That feels pretty bad.

Ultimately it would be a disservice to my students to hold them to low standards, but the process is painful for all involved. The principal has arranged a meeting with us, the guidance office and the failing students to explain the consequences of their failure with a more serious tone in the hopes that they'll shape up before the end of the semester. But this is just gauze on a gushing wound.

How can you successfully teach high-level academic content like Math B in a setting like ours?

1 comment:

jd2718 said...

One of the disadvantages of being at a charter school is that you need to reinvent the wheel. That being said, many schools have struggled with B in particular - it's not been an issue of standards, but rather of an assessment that made little sense.

Kids who pass A with a grade of 65 or 70 are nowhere near ready to handle the content required to pass B. Some schools spread the B content out over more years. Some did that only for some kids. Some did 4 terms for A, and 4 for B. Some had non-Regents classes after A.

B has too much content. B has poorly defined content. B is the image of an "inch deep, mile wide" curriculum. Drill for high scores, but only with better kids, but proceed without good mathematical understanding. That's what schools who have been successful with B did.

Good news? B is out the window. This June we are phasing in Geometry regents, next June - Algebra II/Trig. So the right answer, although unsatisfying, is we will teach a good course this year, setting our own, reasonable standards. They will not match the B standards, and yes, kids will fail the regents, but B will be gone.

Jonathan