Board talks new math tests

A new assessment for math could replace Iowa Assessments starting with the 2014-15 school year.

“Time is ‘a-changing’ as far as math is concerned,” Sue Wood, Fort Dodge Community School District director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said Monday.

Smarter Balanced, a math assessment program, could replace Iowa Assessments, formerly the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, to determine if students are proficient by Iowa Core standards.

“Both are expensive so there’s no way we can do both,” Wood said.

The new assessment not only has students find a solution for a problem but also explain how they arrived at their solution. This will give students not only problem-solving skills but higher understanding of numbers, a valued skill.

“People in the workplace need to explain the things they’re doing,” Wood said.

Already, students are learning cognitive thinking in the school district, and their homework will increasingly demand they not simply show their work but explain it.

“The homework your kids will bring home won’t look the way homework used to,” Wood said. “Kids are going to have to do a lot of explaining with their thinking.”

Cognitively guided instruction emphasizes making sense of numbers, rather than simply memorizing algorithms.

“It’s about students getting a good grasp of numbers,” Wood said. “A lot of what we’re going to see are story problems.”

Kim Vaughn, Butler Elementary math teacher, is one of several teachers already piloting programs with the new curriculum. Vaughn has been working with students, teaching them not only to solve problems but to understand their solutions.

“The kids know how to do it, but they don’t know why they’re doing it,” she said. “So when they get into advanced math classes, they don’t understand the how and so they’re struggling more and more with the advanced math.”

She added, “This gives them a different opportunity to find different strategies to use.”

Vaughn said the current curriculum and assessments are insufficient.

“I’m telling people we can’t stay with this. It’s not covering what we need to cover, it’s not helping our students, because it’s not getting to the why,” she said. “I was surprised by how much they didn’t understand.”

According to Wood, this will give students more power in their education and help them to better understand math.

“We have to learn to step back and let the kids explain it,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what kids can do.”