The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 12, 2003


Carlisle School focuses on students that fall behind in math

"The results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment tests (MCAS) show Carlisle students to be consistently good, with a big gap between the Carlisle students and the rest of the state. I am not a big fan of the tests but one can learn from them. That is the good news," said Carlisle School math coordinator and eighth-grade math teacher Rob Quaden. However, the focus of Quaden's presentation to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) on December 3 was on those students who do not score well on MCAS and the teachers who teach them.

Quaden has noticed that the higher the grade level in the middle school, the more students tend to fail. In fourth grade there may be a 1% failure rate, but by the eighth grade the failure rate may reach 6% or 8%, as it did for the class of 2002. He qualifies the statistics by saying that classes in Carlisle are small and one or two students can make a difference.

How can we help the student?

Quaden admitted there is little knowledge on how to help students who have difficulty in math. As the child gets older, the potential to be left behind increases. "Some students get over the hump but others slide back and get more left behind." There is a fine line on the MCAS between the "needs improvement" category and "failing." "It would be helpful to determine in the fourth grade who needs more help. We should be able to do better for the kids at the bottom," he said.

In the lower grades many resources are directed toward the languages. It does take a grasp of language to understand math but the question is what should one do for math? "Do we do what we say we do?" Quaden feels more effort could be placed in the treatment of geometry but it is hard to find the time. He believes that to improve the quality of math instruction the focus should be on the teaching rather than the curriculum. "What can we do to help the teachers?" Quaden asks.

How can we help the teacher?

Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said that currently the licensing process for teachers requires that a minimum of 20% of their curriculum must be in each area of teaching. The tendency for elementary teachers is to choose language over math, and even in Carlisle college math seminars are not really a draw. CSC Chair David Dockterman said there is real value in having a model and mentor for those who teach math. Quaden agreed that there is improvement when teachers have support in math instruction. Fox-Melanson said, "We have a successful program and we can focus on how to bring in everyone who needs help."

CSC member Suzanne Whitney Smith asked whether one could pinpoint which questions were missed in the MCAS to determine weaknesses in the program. Quaden answered, "The MCAS tests give data but there is no strong pattern. The curriculum should be separate from the tests because if you focus on the tests, our goals erode and lower." Dockterman said that one measure we have is how well the kids do in high school. It would also be important to develop methods to determine which kids go over the hump and succeed or fall below. Fox-Melanson added that there could be more intervention with the third graders.

"A lot of the process," said Director of Special Support Services Dr. Linda Stapp, "is how the children are as learners. Some of them take longer. Math is taught by language-based tasks."

"A lot of the kids are seeing the test for the first time. There is no test preparation," said Co-Principal Stephen Goodwin.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito