Texas saw a drop in test scores for eighth-grade math again, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.
Dr. Michael Marder, executive director of UTeach, says the scores also show an equity gap.
“Low-income students are amongst those that are suffering the most, but the warning signals are for everyone,” he said. “For well off, as well as low-income students right now.”
Eighth graders in Texas used to lead the nation in math in 2011, but since then, scores have slowly slipped. The state now scores around the national average. While it’s still a high score, Marder says the continued drop should be addressed immediately.
“Parents need to be concerned about the opportunities for their children,” he said.
At Farley Middle School in Hutto, both Mendy Baker and Jillian Edwards say they prioritize a classroom environment that encourages collaboration and innovation.
“We’re very open with our students and we tell them, we’re going to make a bunch of mistakes,” Baker said. “You’re going to make a bunch of mistakes. It’s what you do after that mistake that really matters to us.”
“We use tests,” Edwards said. “We use pre-assessments. We use post assessments. A lot of the classroom is guided by the data we see in the moment. Sometimes, if you wait too long, it’s not going to get them the full purpose of what we need.”
Dr. Debra Plowman with the Center for STEM Education at the University of Texas at Austin helps coordinate professional development through projects across the state.
“I think the scores are one of the elements we can look at as far as how we’re doing,” she said. “I never tell teachers we’re out to improve scores. We’re out to improve the experiences students have with math, so they will persist and pursue and choose math and science-related activities.”
Plowman says closing the gap must start with enabling students to feel like math is a subject they can grasp.
“We’re helping teachers understand that conducting discussions and offering challenging problems to all kids no matter what class they’re in or what they scored last year are the ways to help students feel powerful in mathematics and feel like they have something to offer,” she said. “What we try to encourage — and it is a trend in the U.S — that teachers are understanding the value of problem-solving. They’re understanding the value of having all kids engaged in challenging work and that students need to be doing the math.”
That’s what matters to Baker and Edwards for their students.
“[By] making each classroom safe, kids are more likely going to be OK with making mistakes, working with each other and partners,” she said. “Maybe they’re people they’re not always friends with outside of [the classroom], but they’re OK to work together in the classroom.”
Baker emphasizes professional development is critical to provide teachers additional insight on how they can engage with students. Teachers she and Edwards have worked with will often share curriculum and in-class activity ideas via email often.
“If we ask students to collaborate with one another, we need to ask [teachers] to collaborate with other teachers within the school, within the district and also in other districts,” Baker said.