Few would disagree that this was a tough year for testing. The fall-out across the country in the wake of common core standardized testing protests and test practices scandals (“big data” and student privacy) has left many parents, teachers and students weary and dismayed.
The headlines are grim and would lead anyone to think that, when it comes to common core testing, all is lost:
- High school juniors not really into Common Core-aligned state tests
- NEA To Support Opt-Out, Oppose Common-Core Testing
- House narrowly approves education bill that allow parents to opt children out of achievement tests
- Delaware Passes Bill Allowing Opt Out of Common Core Mandated Tests
But is this the whole story? What about the students who are not only taking tests but who are doing so with confidence and determination — students who, just a year ago were performing poorly in math and on tests? Who are these students? Where are they? And most importantly, how and why are they succeeding in testing while so many other students are opting out?
Newtown High School, located in Elmhurst, Queens, New York City, has a diverse student body consisting of approximately 2,879 students, with a large percentage of Hispanic and Asian students. This past school year, Newtown’s math teachers and assistant principal of mathematics (Janisha Thompson) were blown away by what they saw from students who took the New York State Geometry Regents in June. “One of the things that I noticed with students taking the initial Common Core Geometry Regents was that they stayed for almost the entire three hours [of the exam],” explains Janisha Thompson in a video interview.
Newtown recently adopted IMP’s Meaningful Math (a problem-based, common-core aligned math curriculum) and the change in students’ performance from last year to this year has been extremely positive and exciting. Meaningful Math teacher, Maria Elizabeth De la Cruz, expressed shock and awe at what she saw from students during Regents testing: “They just kept going and going! I would ask them how they’re doing? And they’d give a thumbs up! And when I looked at their booklets — oh my goodness! When students usually see a [math] problem, with so many words, they try to read it and then they give up! The booklet they submit is mostly blank. But [this time] my students were not really leaving anything blank! They stayed for the full 4.5 hours of the test — the full time that was given to them.”
The positive difference between students’ test-taking skills a year ago and today is a little thing called perseverance (a core concept of Meaningful Math that helps students to understand the value of creative problem-solving and the joy of sticking with a problem until it’s solved). Explains Principal Thompson, “They’re not giving up on solving the problem so easily as they did in the past. The students have really developed a sense of perseverance that [says], ‘I’m not going to give up on a problem. I’m going to stay and try to do it to the best of my ability.’ That confidence has really been built into them. They have that attack and desire to really try to get that internal satisfaction that says, ‘Yes! I’ve got it!'”
That’s the key. Not only did Newtown students persevere in common core math testing, but they embraced the process. What are their scores? We don’t have the results yet. But test scores are only a part of assessing whether students are succeeding in math. How they approach solving problems under stress and their ability to see the problem through (and the having the confidence to believe they can solve the problem) is also crucial.
“It’s not just the learning of the math. It’s the discipline,” notes De la Cruz. “We see more perseverance which is really necessary for solving problems in math. Not everybody likes math. But to persevere is something else!”
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