Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 2 - Critical Issues in Mathematics Education (MSRI 2013)

Interesting license plate in the MSRI parking lot.
The first talk of the day was about assessment, diversity, and equity.  We heard from the Algebra Project ( and recommendations for formative mathematics assessment for English learners (Judit Moschkovich, UC Santa Cruz).  This talk focused on formative assessment and what is essential for good assessment of English learners.  The are some very interesting and useful video clips at the Understanding Language website ( as well as research papers.  This is a great resource with separate resources dedicated to science, math, and English language arts.  The techniques discussed are very useful for assessing all students. Hints for writing good word problems:  changing passive voice to active, reduces nested and subordinate clauses, make the sentences shorter.  Language is more than just vocabulary---it's structure.  Maria Martiniello was supposed to attend the workshop, but encountered travel difficulties since she was coming from Venezuela.  By the way, Bob Moses, the founder of the Algebra Project, is attending this workshop.

After the first talk, it was picture time and then back into our groups.  The groups are now medium sized, each composed of three or four of our previous smaller groups.  The task before us was to discuss the assessment items that we created in our small groups or the difficulties we had in writing our  assessment items.  There were almost 20 people in our medium sized group.  We decided to focus more on the process of creating an individual assessment item rather than a specific item.  One point that was stressed was the importance (and sometimes difficulties) of linking assessment items to specific content and practice standards.

The next presentation was SBAC: Challenges taken on a progress to date (Shelbi Cole) (see  Only large projects such as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium can construct and maintain large item pools.  SBAC is a consortium of 21 states.  Released items and the summative assessment blueprint can be found on the SBAC website.  Just a reminder that the other assessment consortium is Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC (

After lunch, we organized into larger groups for debriefing what we did in our smaller groups.  Other than sharing the assessment items that we created in our smaller groups, we discussed how well things worked by bringing together small, diverse groups to write assessment items.  Personally, I think that it worked well.

The after lunch talk was given by Diane Briars, Broadening the conversation: issues and concerns.  Diane will be the new NCTM President-Elect in October.  For high-stakes testing at its worst, see the article in the Pittsburg Post Gazette,  Research shows that the more time that you spend doing test prep, the worse the test scores are.  Good instruction means good scores on well-crafted and meaningful exams.  The Math Reasoning Inventory has good formative assessment tools (  Much of what Briars said, especially about concerns and challenges, was not new, but she said it well and was pretty much on target.

The workshop concluded with a panel discussion and then closing remarks by Alan Schoenfeld.  The message from the panel seemed to be that we should focus on instruction.  This confirms my long held belief that if you want to improve education you will get the most bang for your buck by training your teachers better and rewarding them more.

Flying back to Texas in the morning.  At least I got bumped up to first class on both legs.

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