In VA, SOL means Standards of Learning - it's our state test. Yep - what a GREAT name for some really important, end-of-year, all-inclusive exams. And now it's worse.

There are many theories as to why the test has changed this year. See, they made it a LOT harder. Mucho dificil-er. Seriously. Across the state, Alg I had a 48% pass rate - 48%!!! Let me break it down - that's the percentage - of students - who took algebra the first half of the year (with block scheduling) - who passed. That means more than half the kids failed! a test they need to pass to graduate! I don't know how close they were to passing and they do get to re-take it at the end of the year, but C'MON PEOPLE! From a mathematics test, I don't know how valid this is.

So we've been told the test is harder. Trickier. Wordier. More vocabulary. More meaningless words. More context. More multi-step. More looks like multi-step but isn't. More looks like single-step but isn't. More of everything. It took some children 6 HOURS to complete this test. It took another child going through 12 questions before he found one he knew how to do. You think teaching isn't hard? Try getting kids ready for this!

In my county, we also ramped it up so all 8th graders take algebra I. I think it's great for reasons we can get into later, even though I concede many of them are not quite ready. Or so we say. They are ready for computers at 5 but can't do algebra at 14? I digress....

Anyway, with the idea of not complaining (I know, too late) I have decided to share with you some of the wisdom we received from a county that actually did well.

1) Follow the curriculum framework closely! This is a bit more detailed than the specific standards and include common vocabulary and tells what the kids should actually be able to do. For example: The standard says to factor polynomials but the framework says what kind of polynomials and to do it graphically, algebraically, and using modeling. Also use the scope and sequence documents the VDOE provides. Do the practice items, too.

2) Don't count on released SOL test data. If you use these to benchmark your kids and try to predict the outcome of the SOL, it will fail you.

3) Teach students to read the ENTIRE question. Make sure they know what question they are answering. The first step may be to distribute, but if it asks for the 4th step they'd better put the multiplication property.

4) Concepts taught in previous classes are wide-open. This seems like it should be evident, but considering we don't focus on angles, Pythagorean Thm, stem-and-leaf plots, etc in algebra, I wonder why they brought this up.

5) Remediate all the time. Sleep at the school. Don't ever stop doing math.

Okay, this is what we were told: "Weakest students were pulled and tutored 1 1/2 months prior to the test. Math teachers got together, identified students, and developed a plan for doing this during their planning, before school, after school, during lunch, during NTA's, whenever they could find time."

Doesn't that say

*remediate all the time - sleep at the school - don't ever stop doing math.*?

6) The test takes longer and there are little to no thank-you-for-coming-questions. I've always banked my kids would get

*3(x-4)=3x-12 represents which property*but that's no longer an option. Teach kids to do the ones they know first!

7) The Algebra I test had a lot of modeling related questions. Hmmm...

I'll share my strategies for implementing all of this, but for now I hope this helps you. If you're a VA math teacher, on any intermediate level, please share this with others. Of course 6-8 tests haven't been tested yet but I wouldn't expect much difference.

A dear friend posted this on Facebook and I had to take it. I definitely feel this way sometimes! |