Pelham’s test scores: the declines you aren’t hearing anything about

One reason the Board of Education and others have cited for keeping “Investigations:” Pelham’s test scores remain strong. Unfortunately, that’s not really true.

While our district-wide average score remains near 700 in most elementary grades, that average hides the fact that 24.5 percent fewer students in Grades 3 through 5  scored a level 3 or 4 – proficiency and mastery – on the state math exam in 2011 than in 2007, the last non-”Investigations” test year.  That’s not small potatoes. It adds up to about 58 more children who are not achieving at grade-level in 2011 than just four short years ago.

These declines occurred despite a recent test-prep push in classrooms and the growing number of parents filling in the gaps at home with tutors, workbooks and weekend math classes. What’s taught in the classroom day in and day out—where our children spend most of their learning time—matters.

Take a look at the graphs below: “Pelham Student Math Achievement Grades 3-5,” and see for yourself (click the graphic to view it larger and read it clearly).

Note that things get worse by fifth grade. Back in 2007, 94 percent of Pelham fifth graders scored a 3 or a 4 on the state exam. But only 86 percent of last year’s fifth graders did the same.

If you only looked at the average score, you’d think fifth graders were actually achieving at a higher rate now. Our average score was 703 in 2011 and 695 in 2007.  But 32 kids aren’t meeting the arguably low benchmark of proficiency today and only 13 missed the mark in 2007 and only 5 kids missed the mark in 2008. That’s not success.

Wondering which comparable districts around us have suffered a steeper proficiency and mastery decline? Harrison, where the percent of kids scoring a Level 3 or 4 is down 38.5 percent in 2011 compared with 2007. Harrison is one of the only other districts around to have used “Investigations” longer than Pelham.

The failure of “Investigations” and other constructivist curricula becomes even clearer when you look at a broader swath of nearby districts, some of them identified by the Pelham Board of Education as Pelham cohorts. Looking at 11 districts—three using “Investigations,” five using other constructivist programs and three using more traditional/balanced math programs—the contrast is even more stark.

Take a look at the second set of graphs below: “Math Achievement by Program Type in Grades 3-5: A Snapshot of 11 Districts.” Click to for a larger view to read the graphic clearly.

The facts are clear:

  • The three districts using “Investigations”—Ardsley, Harrison and Pelham—have seen the percentage of students scoring a 3 or 4 on the state exam decline from 2007 by much larger margins than districts that don’t use “Investigations.”
  • Districts that do not use constructivist math programs—Eastchester, Bronxville and Scarsdale—have seen the smallest declines in two of the three grades. In fifth grade, the decline in proficiency and mastery is just 2.7 percentage points compared with declines of 5.5 percentage points in the “Investigations” districts, 4.8 percentage points in other constructivist-curricula districts and a whopping 8.3 percentage point decline in Pelham.
  • Pelham’s children are falling further and further behind in proficiency and mastery, just as children in the other two “Investigations” districts are, compared with children in districts using traditional or balanced math programs.

Next time someone says “Investigations” can’t be all that bad because, “our test scores are still good…” ask yourself: Is a 24.5 percent decline in students meeting or exceeding the benchmark something to cheer about?

The source of all the data is http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/ela-math/ . The underlying spreadsheets are available to anyone interested.

If you want the highest quality math for the children of Pelham, click here to see and sign the petition to replace “Investigations.” For copy-and-paste fans, here’s the url:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/pelhammath/

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