Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Math, Mather, Mathest

WASHINGTON - APRIL 13:  U.S.  President George...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Math: Thank you, Richard Mills, for navigating NYS through the minefield of No Child Left Behind.  I can't imagine the pressure you've been under since 1995 as Commissioner of Education for New York State.


Mather: It's been nearly impossible for some states to resist the temptation to "dumb down" their tests to demonstrate compliance with federal NCLB guidelines.

Here's a link to the state's press release related to the NYS 2009 Math Exams http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/Math3-8Results2009.htm

"At this juncture, it is appropriate to ask if we should be increasing the rigor of the current 3-8 testing system. To do this, we will carefully review data trends of the past four years." ~Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch
I believe a key data trend "of the past four years" is the drop in raw scores and percentage of points required to pass every test at every grade level since 2006.

Passing scores (at least 650 scaled score) are highlighted in yellow.  I copied and pasted information from http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/irts/ela-math/, "Raw Score to Scale Score Conversion Charts" in the public domain and compiled it into an easy-to-read spreadsheet.


Key statistic from this spreadsheet: A 7th grade student in 2006 needed to earn 60% of points available to pass the exam.  In 2009, a 7th grader only needed to earn 44% of points available to pass.  This trend exists at all grade levels, 3-8, from 2006-2009.


Mathest:  Has Richard Mills shrewdly overseen an increase in standards and an increase in NCLB scores?

Is Merryl Tisch preparing us for a significant drop in NCLB test scores in NYS next year?

Will this prompt a change in vendor?  The state is reviewing its 3-8 testing system and will be negotiating a new contract after the 2009-2010 school year.

I encourage you to peruse the following technical document which describes "Raw Score to Scale Score and SEM Conversion tables" by CTB/McGraw-Hill on page 74: http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/osa/pub/gr3-8math06report.pdf

The details are transparent only to a point.  Because "proprietary software" is used in the process of evaluating individual test items and relative difficulty of exams over time, and because it is impossible to gain access to this copyrighted information, it leaves open the question: Why has the raw score required to pass each grade level exam in NYS, at every grade level, remained constant or fallen every year since 2006?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Abundance Argument

What follows can only occur in a society of abundance.

Deep: My brother and mom used to disagree about how to spend money on clothes.

He insisted that he wanted to buy higher-quality, more expensive clothes, but fewer of them.

She insisted that more, less expensive clothes would last longer if cared for properly.

Deeper: A coworker and her son had an argument about how to spend money on clothes.

She insisted that higher-quality, more expensive clothes would last longer because the width of stitches was smaller.

He insisted that he wanted to buy more, less expensive clothes.

Deepest: How do you transform your opinions into "facts?" How do I transform my opinions into "facts?"

What’s Filthy?

Deep: I've been listening to the audio book version of Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt for the last couple of weeks. Human behavior is subtly and nearly imperceptibly influenced by culture and context.

This isn't an excuse for bad behavior, but it provides a framework for considering irrational behavior.

Deeper: Take, for instance, fruit purchased from the supermarket or a roadside stand. According to the article "The 5 Dirtiest Foods," many melons (3.5-7%) carry disease.

It got me wondering why I took great care to wash the apples before placing them in the family fruit basket, but not the oranges or grapefruit or bananas. Fruit is healthy, so why bother washing it? Irrational.

Deepest: What in our lives is really filthy?

What do we scrub unnecessarily?

What's clean that we perceive to be dirty?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Can You Top This Mad Lib?

Courtesy Barack Obama's Inauguration Speech generator

My fellow Americans, today is a greasy day. You have shown the world that "hope" is not just another word for "book", and that "change" is not only something we can believe in again, but something we can actually sniffle.

Today we celebrate, but let there be no mistake – America faces whiney and happy challenges like never before. Our economy is purple. Americans can barely afford their mortgages, let alone have enough money left over for toes. Our healthcare system is creepy. If your elbow is sick and you don't have insurance, you might as well call a lounge singer. And America's image overseas is tarnished like a shoe apple. But thinking together we can right this ship, and set a course for Taiwan.

Finally, I must thank my round family, my creamy campaign volunteers, but most of all, I want to thank The Monkees for making this historic occasion possible. Of course, I must also thank you, President Bush, for years of skiing the American people. Without your dark efforts, none of this would have been possible.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I enjoyed hearing my name on the Guardian's Science Weekly podcast from December 15, 2008:

Trouble is, the file I spliced for my students was 3:14.1 just long enough for me to share this detail with the folks in the pod.  Then I discovered that the first 30 seconds of my splice were unnecessary.

The file I actually have saved on my hard drive at school is closer to 2:45.  That's boring!

I didn't have the heart to come clean.  So I got this attention because of a mistake.

Sorry, Producer Andy!  Alok may not have understood your witty retort, but at least it was honest.

Added: For the curious, here's an explanation of the Hodge Conjecture!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Open-Minded Parenting Style

I'm so glad that we live in a world where our baby can believe whatever she wants...

Mom, I've accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
How could you do this to your father and me?

Friday, May 23, 2008

My 911 Calls

Weird: "There's a car spun out in the median."
Operator: Did this just happen?
"I can't tell. It's covered in a bit of ice. But I just didn't feel comfortable."

Even weirder: "We were driving westbound on 490, by the airport exit, and a car just lost control. It spun out and hit a huge light pole and knocked it over."
Operator: What color is the vehicle?
"White, I mean, no, black. I'm not sure."

Weirdest: "There's a fire in my kitchen! And the flames are shooting up into the ceiling. And, uh, well, my brother just knocked the plastic dish onto the floor and put it out. Do you still have to come?"
Operator (exasperated): Yes.