PARCC testing in Maryland schools. Was this year's drop in math scores a product of testing or does it signal problems in the classroom?
PARCC testing in Maryland schools. Was this year's drop in math scores a product of testing or does it signal problems in the classroom?

Professor Joseph Ganem’s contention that Maryland’s standardized test is to blame for declining math scores (“Low Md. PARCC scores may be caused by poor questions,” Sept. 9) 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. Mr. Ganem, 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 Mr. Ganem 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.

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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 NEA and the AFT, 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. Mr. Ganem suggests that “basic biology and brain development” prevent 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 Mr. Ganem 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.

Dale Chu, Denver, Colo.

The writer is a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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