Thursday, March 29, 2012

Closing the Gap

I was "voluntold" to be a part of a committee working on a grant that is supposed to close the gaps between high school and higher education. Our first meeting was this week. I believe the percent of students entering college in Ohio requiring either remedial English or Mathematics (or both) is 41% (this was for the 2009-2010 school year). For my district, that number was 62%. It didn't used to be that bad. The data that I saw from 2003-2007 was not that bad. However, there were several things that happened to our class of 2009 (and earlier). We had significant staff cuts. Our number of students needing free and reduced lunch increased. Some of our stronger students went to other districts due to the cuts. I'm not making excuses - these are the facts that I can think of that might have affected that number.

How am I supposed to help reduce the number of students who need remediation in college if they won't help themselves? How do I get across to them that by 2018, 62% of jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education? These kids can barely focus on stuff happening that week, as evidenced by the influx of re-assessments this week since it's the last week of the grading period, let alone next month, next year, etc. How do you instill in students the perseverance they need to be successful? How do you convince students that they will need to go to some sort of post-secondary education?

As we are delving into the information, I know I am going to find that we are not teaching all of what needs to be taught for students to be college-ready. We did a gap analysis this week between what we have been teaching (or are supposed to be teaching) and the Common Core. I had two realizations as I did my gap analysis for Algebra 2:

  1. Even though Ohio never specified what was to be taught in Algebra 2 (they did our old indicators by grade level), my students probably weren't taught as much of what would be considered Algebra 2 as they should have. It has gotten worse each year. The first year I taught Algebra 2, I taught a lot more Algebra 2 content than I did this year. In fact, I think I have taught less each year for about the last 5-6 years I have taught it.
  2. Even if I did teach what I was supposed to in Algebra 2, this is a huge step up. Common Core should close the gap between what colleges expect our students to have learned and what we have taught. This is, assuming of course, that we teach everything that we are asked to in Common Core.

What both of these items is going to mean for me is that I have a lot of catching up of my students to do. At least I know that next year's students are coming in with a little bit more mathematical knowledge than this year's group did.

With what has happened in my classroom this week, I can't help but wonder how we work on closing the gap when our students don't seem to retain what is taught. My Algebra 2 students couldn't remember factoring, which I spent like 3 weeks on and finished about 6 weeks ago. I did not have to spend a lot of time reteaching it, but students who seemed to have had a good grasp on how to factor have forgotten it. Do they really forget it, are they too lazy to recall it, or do they not have the skills to know how to go back and refresh their own memories? I think what bothers me even more about their lack of remembering factoring today is that they  just reviewed it on Monday (when I was out) and several were able to successfully complete the worksheet. What's the deal? Have students become so focus on the immediacy of the present that they don't know how to recall information? I even have seen this the last few years on my midterm and final exams. How do I alleviate this problem? Is it a problem in how I teach or is it more of a systemic problem - that students have the same problem everywhere and/or in other courses?

I was conversing with the chair of the mathematics department of one of our local universities. He has the same issues with his class - lack of outside practice, tests are very similar to homework and students don't do well, etc. - and this is a class of juniors who are majoring in math and computer science. I found it interesting that this college professor was complaining of some of the exact issues we complain about as high school teachers. It makes me wonder if it really is a widespread problem or just in this area of the country.

I'm sure that some of this goes back to being less helpful (which I'm not doing anywhere near as much as I think I should be) and I'm sure I'm not doing anywhere near the amount of application problems I should be. I know I have improvements to make. My class this year doesn't look like it did last year, and I am certain that next year's version will be different from now. I know I am going to put forth the effort to make the improvements. How do I instill the same in my students?

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