State School Superintendent Kathy Cox provided a spirited defense of the state’s new math standards Friday in an address to the DeKalb Rotary.
In doing so, she talked more about Massachusetts than Georgia since our standards are based on a reforms introduced there a decade earlier. She had lots of data and tests results from the New England state generally recognized as an educational leader. Her goal: To overtake Massachusetts in math performance.
Cox has been widely criticized for the state’s new math standards, even though they are based on models used with success in other states and nations, including Finland and Japan. (While she used Massachusetts as her comparison, she also said Georgia drew ideas from California, North Carolina, Minnesota and Texas.)
Cox has even brought the former Massachusetts commissioner of education to Georgia to work with her staff on the standards and urge them to hold fast; improvement will come. David Driscoll said that he, too, was excoriated for the state’s math changes, but that vindication came with time and higher scores.
“The first thing he told my staff was that it didn’t hurt to be burned in effigy,” said Cox. “It hasn’t gotten that bad here yet, but I don’t want to give anyone any ideas.”
Massachusetts has seen a remarkable improvement in its math scores, not just on its own tests but on international benchmarks.
In 1998, the 10th grade failure rate on the MCAS was 52 percent. By 2009, the rate was 8 percent. In 1998, only 7 percent of Massachusetts 10th graders scored at the advanced-proficient plus level; in 2009, 47 percent did. (The Boston Herald has an easy-to-read chart of 2008 and 2009 scores.)
To create an international comparison, Massachusetts gave its students the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). As a nation, the United States lands in middle of the pack on this international benchmark. In 2007, Massachusetts administered the test so it could have state data separate from the nation. And the results were reassuring.
According to the Boston Globe:
Massachusetts students significantly outperformed their peers nationwide on a prestigious math and science exam, putting the state on an elite international tier, according to results released yesterday.
In many cases, the state’s impressive showing on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (conducted by Boston College) puts Massachusetts in the same league with Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore – academic heavyweights that have long made US policy-makers fearful of losing an economic competitive edge.
The test, more commonly known as TIMSS, was developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in Amsterdam and is considered the largest assessment of international student performance in math and science. Some 425,000 fourth- and eighth-graders in more than four dozen countries took the exam last year. It has been given every four years since 1995.
The results mirror the state’s strong showing on national standardized tests in math and science. But at home, students have struggled at times on the state’s own standardized tests, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams, which are noted nationally for their high expectations. The inability of some students to pass the MCAS has caused about half of the state’s schools to miss performance targets established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which judges both schools and subsets of students based on standardized test results in their states.
The TIMSS study does not evaluate individual school performance or that of subsets of students at a school. The study doesn’t even collectively track the performance of students based on race or ethnicity because demographics vary so much from one country to another.
The TIMSS exam is administered nationally but individual regions can take it separately, though the latter requires the testing of more students. The decision to go separately cost Massachusetts $600,000, instead of having the federal government foot the bill.
In eighth-grade math, the state’s score rose 34 points to 547 from eight years ago, compared with a 7-point increase for the United States, which averaged 508 last year. In eighth-grade science, the state’s score rose 23 points to 556, compared with a 5-point gain for the United States, which scored 520 last year. The top possible score on each exam was 800.
Among Cox’s other points to the Rotary:
The budget: “It’s bad, bad, bad.It’s just a horrible situation.”
Graduation rate: “No matter how you measure it, our graduation rate is improving.”
As she did a week earlier in a presentation to education writers from around Georgia, Cox presented NAEP data — a national benchmark test that is considered the “Nation’s Report Card” — showing that Georgia is keeping up with or outpacing the nation in improvement in almost every demographic. The state is doing particulary well with Hispanic students.
Cox also told the group that 8,211 teachers in the k-12 system owe their jobs to federal stimulus funds. Without the federal infusion of money, they would not be working.