23 Sep Rather than blaming the test, let’s lift up Maryland’s students
By Dale Chu
A recent contention in the Baltimore Sun that Maryland’s standardized test is to blame for declining math scores doesn’t explain why math proficiency scores among Maryland students on both the NAEP and the ACT college readiness test are also falling. And it conveniently ignores several independent and governmental analyses, including two from the National Center for Education Statistics, which have determined that Maryland’s end-of-year K-12 test is better aligned to the state’s education standards than any of its predecessors.
For the past five years, scores of Maryland educators drawn from across the state have been involved in the design and development of the test to ensure that the questions students see on testing day are aligned to the instruction they’ve been receiving throughout the year in the classroom. The author, a physics professor at Loyola, seizes on a retired third-grade test question that he finds confusing and “developmentally inappropriate.” That sounds scientific and authoritative, but it’s often code to say that something is too difficult. As a former third grade teacher, I can tell you that the question the author finds offensive is not only reasonable, it is in fact nearly verbatim to Standard 3.OA.A.2 in Maryland’s College and Career Ready Standards.
Maryland’s math standards were designed collaboratively by some of the state’s most accomplished math teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, and national organizations of teachers of math, among others. They are designed to foster a deep-level understanding of mathematical concepts by requiring students to master multiple strategies and techniques for problem-solving. The author suggests that “basic biology and brain development” prevents kids from mastering these standards, but it’s exactly this type of belief gap—the difference between what poor and minority students are actually capable of achieving and the low expectations society holds for them—that I fought against as a teacher, and that we must stand up to together for the sake of our children and our nation.
Never mind that the math standards in Maryland correlate closely with standards in the world’s most high-performing countries. Don’t worry about the students and families who are working tirelessly to exceed their current station in life, especially the marginalized ones like those for whom English is a second language that the author casually assigns blame to for the state’s suboptimal performance. The challenge of improving math proficiency among Maryland students will most certainly require new approaches and different classroom strategies.
But rather than contemplating a return to inferior standards and subpar tests, we should ensure that changes in the classroom are informed by data derived from tests and rise above the rhetoric of negativity and condescension that continues to hold our students back from achieving their fullest potential.
Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published in the Baltimore Sun as a letter to the editor.