It’s been a while. I’ve been thinking…

After a PD about VAAS – Value-Added Assessment Systems – after the school day today, I was thinking a lot about adding value to things.  Not necessarily mathematical value; just value in general.

Now, as I’m sitting here planning a way to attempt a mass success for my upcoming midterm test, I am having a bit of trouble deciding what kind of value I want to add to my students.

I could throw little tidbits at them.  FOIL!  Factor using an ‘X’ to do ‘diamond problems!’ ‘PEMDAS!’  But then, as soon as there is a trinomial multiplied by a binomial, what do I do?  (First, Middle, Last?  FML?)  “Yes, you HAVE seen it before.  It’s just a distributive property problem.”

I could try to teach them the distributive property well.  Then it gets dry for the kids who get it because there is surely going to be a group that is lagging behind and uninterested (or worse yet, disinterested because I keep introducing “new rules.”)  I would love love LOVE everyone to appreciate math as much as me and want to understand its fundamentals and play and experiment and explore.  But alas, by the time they get to me in 9th (or higher) grade, generally an attitude towards math is already fairly solidly formed one way or another.  Am I wrong?  Am I just not doing something right?

If I’m speaking to the highest percentage of the audience, I guess the answer is to use mnemonics.  Use little memory devices that trivialize deeper meaning and will do enough to have a student pass a test.  If I’m speaking to my morals and everything that I know is right, I guess the answer is to teach the subject, “Failures be damned!”  I know there are always these quotes and these people that say things about doing what you know is right and the outcome will always be better than it would have been otherwise.  In this environment though, if I teach to those who care about it and  teach the subject deeply, I can almost hear the administration’s response to, “Yes I know only 5 of the 30 people I have passed.  But holy crap, they REALLY passed!”  and it, in my head, sounds something like this:  “Enjoy your summer.  Don’t come back in the fall.”

I think back to the original topic of this post.  It’s been long lost.  I don’t even really know where I’m going with this.  I know a goal of standards is so that everyone knows virtually the same material coming out of high school so it’s a “level playing field” of sorts.

If standards work, truly work, sure, there are people that may otherwise not have known how to factor a quadratic that will remember for a little bit longer how to factor a quadratic.  But at what cost?  Did Picasso know how to factor quadratics?  Who knows!  And that’s my point.  The world got along just peachy (peachily) before everyone knew what everyone else knew.  If a kid passes grade school, middle school, and high school, there have been (probably) more than 20 professionals that have said s/he has gotten enough out of the class to move on to the next grade.

People, after hearing from 20 professional doctors that your child is healthy, do you make your child then go to the state board of health and take one last physical, just to be sure?

After hearing from 20 professional financial advisors that you are going to be OK to retire, do you go to one last state-run agency to see for sure?

After seeing 20 dentists and hearing you don’t have a cavity, do you go to the state board of dentistry and have one last person check, just to be sure?

Ugh.  From “How do I get my kids to pass a midterm?” to “Hey Standardized Expectations – I hate you.”

PS – A bit ironic that the smarter-than-I-am people making the decisions about what is best for the education of our children grew up in an education system before standardized test were…the norm (get it?)  If these tests really produce the brightest “products” to graduate high school, then everyone should feel incredibly confident with the future of the country — one run by our standardized products.  My guess?  When the kids now are in power enough to change a whole paradigm of education, they will.  “No more standardized tests.  We had to go through it for our whole academic careers; no way in HELL we’re making our kids go through that.”