Wednesday, November 14, 2012

why the hell are third graders doing (or expected to do) algebra?

I ranted about third graders doing algebra the other day on Facebook, but I have to admit that I am still bugged and want to expand on my rant a bit.

Like every parent, I want my child to succeed, even exceed my expectations. I am no helicopter mom, and I don't think I am pushy or over-achieving. But watching my daughter struggle with third grade math this year has bothered me. I don't mind that she isn't getting it fast enough. What bothers me is that the difference between second and third grade math is so huge. Suddenly there are expectations and ramifications with every workbook and test she takes. This year she will be expected to take the FCAT (Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test), which will not only determine her standing in her class, school and grade level, but also plays into her elementary school's rating.
The FCAT is administered annually, in late February and early to mid-March as well as April, to all public school students in grades three through eleven. Students in grades three through ten are required to take the reading and math portion every year. ... Students' results from the FCAT are compiled to generate a grade for each public school. Under this plan, public schools receive a grade from A to F, depending on student performance and the degree to which the bottom 25% of the school has improved compared to its past performances. The higher a public school scores, the more funding it receives." —  Wikipedia
The kid's school wants to keep its A rating, and as outlined above, its funding. So even more pressure is on the kids, as the hope from schools is not for a child to just do well for themselves, but to help keep their teachers hired and their special programs, like math tutoring, going.

I get that U.S. schools want to be more academically competitive (No Child Left Behind), but the math homework that the kid has been bringing home is frankly beyond most of the kids in her class — when 10 out of 16 kids need math tutoring in order to understand and complete their homework what does that say?

Here are two sample third grade questions:

Isabella cannot remember the product of 9 × 8. Which of the following is
another expression that Isabella could use to find the product of 9 × 8 ?

(9 × 5) + (9 × 3)
(9 × 4) + (9 × 2)
(9 × 1) + (4 × 2)
(9 × 2) + (8 × 6) 
Chris gave 2 beach balls to each friend who came to his birthday party. He had
8 friends at his party. Which equation could be used to find the total number
of beach balls Chris gave to his friends at the party?

8 × b = 2
b × 2 = 8
8 ÷ 2 = b
b ÷ 8 = 2
I'm sure she'll get all this down, but her class hasn't even mastered the times tables yet and she is already getting homework that includes problems like these. I can remember sitting in my third grade class a million years ago and the whole class having to recite the times tables out loud. It was boring and repetitive, but we all learned them.

I can't change the system, nor do I want my kid to fall behind if she doesn't have to (she is only struggling with math; thankfully reading has been a breeze). We have signed up for the math tutoring, mostly to help increase her comfort level and so homework doesn't seem to be such a chore. I want her to do well on the FCAT this spring, but I'm still not happy about testing anxiety being pushed at these kids at such young ages. I don't remember taking a major diagnostic test until I was in middle school. But times have changed. There are rumors circulating that the FCAT may even be replaced by another (even harder) test. Education is so important. When did it become so politicized?
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