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ONE POINT OF VIEW: Reclaiming School Mathematics

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  • ONE POINT OF VIEW: Reclaiming School MathematicsAuthor(s): Portia ElliottSource: The Arithmetic Teacher, Vol. 37, No. 8 (APRIL 1990), pp. 4-5Published by: National Council of Teachers of MathematicsStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 16:00

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    Reclaiming School Mathematics Portia Elliott

    framers of the Curriculum and

    Evaluation Standards for School Mathe- matics (NCTM 1989) call for a radical "design change" in

    all aspects of mathematics education. They believe that "evaluation is a tool for implementing the Standards and effecting change systematically" (p. 189). They warn, however, that "without changes in how mathemat- ics is assessed, the vision of the math- ematics curriculum described in the standards will not be implemented in classrooms, regardless of how texts or local curricula change" (p. 252).

    Explicit in their warning is the per- ceived power that test constructors wield over curriculum designers and textbook publishers. Implicit in the warning is the sentiment that the tested curriculum is what will be taught regardless of the larger goals and objectives of classroom teachers and mathematics programs. How did test constructors get so powerful as to make curriculum designers, textbook publishers, and teachers cringe at the posting of mean scores, stanine

    Portia Elliott serves on the Editorial Panel of the Arithmetic Teacher and will serve as coed- itor with Mike ne s of the February 1991 fo- cus issue on evaluation. Readers are encour- aged to respond to this editorial by writing to the authors with copies to the Arithmetic Teacher for consideration for publication in "Readers' Dialogue." Please double-space all letters that are to be considered for publication. Editorials from readers are welcomed.

    scores, and standard-deviation re- sults?

    With our fixation on quantitative data, we must take full responsibility for failure to speak out against ex- cesses. By acclaiming one school dis- trict's superiority over another on the basis of national achievement tests; by proclaiming one student more priv- ileged than another because of these findings; and by claiming one teacher meritorious and another mediocre based on students' performances on entrance examinations from kinder- garten to graduate school, we have helped make "high-stakes testing" omnipresent and test constructors omnipotent.

    Because the stakes are so high and pressures from administrators and parents are great, teachers feel en- joined to teach to the test. We dis- avow any knowledge of how we fell victim to "measure-driven instruc- tion." We express feelings of power- lessness, as if testing took over by "right of eminent domain." But when we professional educators and the public repeated the unsubstantiated claims that tests could determine the relative worth of our students, we shared in the culpability for narrowing the focus of educational objectives to those that can be easily quantified. Through participation in, and accep- tance of, the competitive model im- plicit in the uses made of standardized tests, we handed "norm referenced" claim jumpers a "quitclaim" deed to the entire school curriculum.

    Armed with the Standards, it is time to stake a counterclaim on the

    school mathematics curriculum. Our claim should make students, not scores, the mathematically powerful. It should make teachers, not testers, the determiners of instructional objec- tives. It should make learning, not li- censing, the focal point of schooling. The reclamation process begins with the recognition that we have available indicators of success in mathematics that are more revealing than the re- sults on standardized tests. As seduc- tive as test scores have been, their perceived power must be resisted if schools are to reclaim their roles as coordinators of curriculum reforms; if teachers are to reclaim their rightful places on curriculum-evaluation teams; and if students ar to reclaim their mathematical power and become self-regulating, self-monitoring, and self-controlling individuals. In short, the reclamation of both curriculum and assessment is necessary to return accountability to school districts, ad- ministrators, teachers, parents, and students.

    The position expressed in this edi- torial has the endorsement of the Ed- itorial Panel of the Arithmetic Teach- er: Mathematics Education through the Middle Grades. It expresses our beliefs that evaluation must be tied to larger curricular goals and objectives; that evaluation data must come from various sources (e.g., observations, interviews, journal writings, portfo- lios, extended projects, norm- and cri- teria-referenced tests); and that eval- uations must be conducted by evaluation teams consisting of teach- ers, supervisors, administrators, par- ents, students, and test constructors serving as "tenants in common" to determine the best questions to ask and actions to take next to make mathematics accessible by all.


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  • At the right please see the "Call for Manuscripts" for the February 1992 focus issue on evaluation. We invite authors to join in the evaluation dis- cussion; to share evaluation strate- gies; and to offer examples for how school districts, teachers, and stu- dents can reclaim their mathematics curriculum and judge for themselves the quality of their own work.


    National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Commission on Standards for School Mathe- matics. Curriculum and Evaluation Stan- dards for School Mathematics. Reston, Va.: The Council, 1989. W


    MORTENSEN, more than MATH

    Summer workshop focuses on practical and proven ideas for teaching elementary students to love mathematics using manipulatives. Hosted by the Princeton Montessori School, Princeton, NJ. For more information call 609-921-7377.

    Call for Manuscripts: Focus Issue on Evaluation The February 1992 issue of the Arithmetic Teacher: Mathematics Education through the Middle Grades is planned as another in the series of focus issues. The theme of the issue, evaluation, indicates the growing awareness that new instruc- tional techniques will require innovative evaluation strategies and that large-scale standardized testing (accountability testing) must change because of curricular and instructional changes, as well as advances in technology. These changes are having an impact at the classroom, school, school district, state and national levels.

    Manuscripts are being sought that describe evaluation techniques and promising current practices that support the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989) and its Pro- fessional Standards for Teaching Mathematics: Working Draft (1989). Seven cop- ies of a completed manuscript should be sent for review to the Arithmetic Teacher, 1906 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091, by 1 November 1990. No author iden- tification should appear in the text of the manuscript. Authors should identify one category from those listed below that represents the major thrust of their manu- script. An article might, however, incorporate components of more than one cat- egory. Interdisciplinary coauthorship is encouraged.

    Evaluation What is the purpose of evaluation at the classroom, school, district, state, and na- tional levels? What purpose can accounta- bility testing serve in program evaluation or student assessment? How should evaluation be related to program goals, instructional objectives, and classroom practices? How can evaluation and assessment results be used to increase teachers' effectiveness and students' learning? Since the "tested curric- ulum" strongly determines what gets taught, how will tests have to be revamped to reflect the NCTM's curriculum stan- dards?

    Evaluation alternatives What evaluation techniques will yield data to give a multifaceted view of students1 un- derstandings, skills, and dispositions? What roles can observations, interviews, journals, portfolios, extended projects, holistic scor- ing, standardized tests, performance tests, surveys, checklists, self-reporting tech- niques, norm-referenced tests, and criteri- on-referenced tests play in the assessment of mathematics understandings and disposi- tions? How can students' learning styles be accommodated in evaluation practices? How can manipulatives be used effectively in testing situations? Why is a balance of means of evaluation necessary and appro- priate? How can real-life experiences be used in the ev