The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Statement on Draft Regulations Regarding Diagnostic Assessments for Middle and High School Math Teachers
March 28, 2000
As those of us on this Board are painfully aware, there is great controversy over what ails math education in Massachusetts. At one end of the spectrum are those who argue that too many math classes are intellectually empty drill-and-kill sessions, which leave students without any understanding of math concepts. At the other end are those who believe the problem is that math instruction is too often an exercise in building self-esteem, in which students are encouraged to invent their own version of mathematics.
Regardless of where one stands in this debate, at either extreme or somewhere in the middle, there is little disagreement that there is indeed a problem. High failure rates on the math section of MCAS are just the latest indicator of how far we have to go. What's more, there is little disagreement that effective math instruction cannot occur unless math teachers know their subject well. And as a corollary, it is clear that improved math instruction will require teachers to deepen their knowledge of mathematics through professional development.
With this as a backdrop, let's look at the proposal before us today. Under the draft regulations, a middle school or high school with MCAS math failure rates above 30 percent, which is not meeting or exceeding expectations for improvement, would be deemed to have a low-performing math program. In such schools, the regulations would require that math teachers take a diagnostic assessment to identify their strengths and weaknesses with respect to subject mastery, in order to inform future professional development plans.
Math teachers who do poorly on the assessment will not be publicly embarrassed, as individual results will be kept strictly confidential between the teacher and his or her principal. They will not lose their jobs or receive unsatisfactory performance reviews, as the assessment is to be used for diagnostic purposes only. There is nothing at all punitive about this process. Indeed, teachers who participate would receive at no cost, 10 professional development points toward their re-certification. More important, having meaningful diagnostic information about a teacher's subject knowledge will help that teacher improve and will help students learn. Isn't this what education reform is all about?
I understand that teachers feel they are being blamed and demeaned. And I agree that at times the rhetoric on the issue of teacher quality has become overheated and one-sided. For myself, I hope that my past comments have not contributed to this perception and I pledge that my future comments will treat all teachers with the respect and fairness they deserve. This does not mean that any of us should remain silent in the face of unsatisfactory performance and it does not mean that we should allow ourselves to lose sight of our primary responsibility: raising student achievement.
This is the spirit in which these regulations are offered and it is in this spirit that I ask for the board's support.