When I am asked to consult or evaluate a student, often the student is years behind in math. As a result, I am often asked to determine the grade level of the student’s achievement. Regressing the math achievement to a single number is not viable. This post provides an explanation.
Here is a common scenario. A school official reported out the grade level in math for a student. The 7th grade student tested at a 4th grade level. As a result, the student spent much of her 7th grade year working on 4th grade math. When I started working with her, I discovered that she was very capable of higher level math. Six months later, she was taking algebra 1.
The Math Spider Web
Unlike reading, math is not nearly as linear. It is more like a spider web of categories (called domains). For example, Geometry is not a prerequisite for Ratios and Proportions and Fractions is not a prerequisite for Expressions and Equations. Geometry and fractions may be included in problems associated with other domains but they are not foundational building blocks.
On the other hand, in reading, comprehension and decoding are essential in all grade levels. Unresolved trouble with decoding in 3rd grade causes major problems in 4th grade and beyond.
A student tests at a 3.2 in reading. This provides a clear picture of where the student is in the progression of reading ability. There are books written at that grade level.
If a student is reported to to test at a 3rd grade level in math, the student may have scored higher than 3rd grade in Geometry, at 3rd grade in measurement and data, and lower than 3rd grade in the other domains. True, in reading we have students who may decode at a high level and comprehend at a low level. That is more specific that sorting through 6 domains in math. Then consider that the comprehensive number of domains addressed by middle school increases to 11.
The image below shows a breakdown of the Common Core of State Standards math domains. In a video, I use this graphic to unpack why it is more challenging to determine a single level of ability for math.
Addressing Grade Level Metric
If you are presented with a single grade level as an indicator of math ability, I recommend that you ask for a breakdown by category and how your student will be provided differentiation to address gaps. This is more appropriate than plowing through all of the math at a lower grade level.
A hidden treasure is the Common Core of State Standards Math Coherence Map. It is an interactive flow chart that shows connections between the various standards.
If you are teaching math, you can see the connections between what you are teaching, what was taught previously, and how you are preparing students for their future math education.
If you are a special education teacher, you can see the progression of prerequisite skills. If you write IEP objectives for grade level standards, you can address the prerequisite standards and progress made through these prerequisites can show progress towards mastery of the IEP objectives.
In this post, I show the progression from 1st grade standard on the = sign and 2nd grade standard of repeated addition all the way to interpreting slope in high school math.
After clicking “Get Started” you will narrow your focus to the grade, the cluster, and then the math domain.
The flow chart shows connections between a selected standard and others, including prerequisites. In this case 8.F.B.4 – 8th grade content that is a prerequisite for the high school math work. Click on the 8.F.B.4 standard and it pops up (below right).
In turn, the 8th grade standard is connected to a 7th grade prerequisite regarding ratios and proportions.
Notice that the 7th grade standard, 7.RP.A.2, appears to be a dead end (bottom left). I picked up the path by clicking on Grade seen at the top left of the screenshot and made my back to that standard and the connections to prerequisites appeared. (Same happened in 3rd grade shown further down in this post.)
The path continues from ratio and proportions in 7th grade to unit rate in 6th grade, multiplication word problems and multiplication in elementary school.
I want to emphasize that students are working on unit rate and slope problems in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! 3.OA.A.1 below addresses groups of objects model for multiplication and 4.OA.A.2 addresses word problems involving multiplication.
I was recently working with a student entering middle school on multiplication word problems. To unpack the word problems and the concept of multiplication in context, I had her draw (photo below) groups and groups of objects to help her identify the unit rate (although we don’t use that term yet). This work will impact her math education through the high school math and even into college (slope has been a common gap for the college students in the math courses I taught at various colleges and universities).
This approach I used with the student could be used for high school students, especially those with special needs.
The orange circle on the right looks bigger, but in fact both are the same size. The deception is based on the additional sensory input.
Similarly, the prerequisites for taking algebra are often considered to be basic skills. This is largely an illusion. I routinely encounter students who are referred to me for help as they have been caught in an infinite loop of working on basic math such as number operations (adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division) before moving on to algebra, with limited progress. I am not suggesting basic math skills are not important but am focused on the context of prerequisites needed to engage algebra. Many of the students I have helped who were in this situation. We worked to quickly move them into algebra where they were successful.
One student worked on half a year of 4th grade math during her 7th grade year. During the spring of that 7th grade year and the subsequent summer, I worked with her on algebraic thinking and algebra topics. She successfully completed algebra 1 during her 8th grade year.
The Common Core of State Standards (CCSS) for Math maps out the prerequisites as seen in the CCSS math domains (below). Throughout elementary school, Operations and Algebraic Thinking topics are covered. The Algebraic Thinking standards establish for the students a foundation for algebra taught in middle and high school. A focus of algebra is to model or represent patterns or relationships in real life situations using equations, tables, and graphs. These include quantities modeled by variables.
Below is a break down of this foundation in elementary school. If you are supporting a student in middle or high school who is taking algebra and has major gaps in his or her math education, look to these standards for the essential prerequisite skills.
First Grade: represent situations in word problems by adding or subtracting, and introduce equations (and equal sign).
Second Grade: Represent, solve word problems, introduce multiplication as groups of objects.
Third Grade: represent, solve word problems, explain patterns
Fourth Grade: Solve word problems, generate and analyze patterns
Fifth Grade: Write expressions (equations are 2 expressions with an = in between), analyze patterns and relationships
Most testing for IEPs involves standardized testing. As I wrote in a previous post, this is important testing but is not sufficient. A major focus of special education is to make the general education accessible as possible. Hence, curriculum based testing is an important complement to the standardized based testing. For example, the KeyMath3 assessment will speak to problem solving or geometry but those are broad categories. If I am working with a 3rd or 4th grade student, I would be interested in the student’s level of mastery in computing the perimeter of a rectangle.
Also, math is very different than reading because math has a variety of categories of math, aka domains. A student testing at a 4th grade level in math does not reveal much information, as I explain in this previous post.
When I conduct evaluations or assessments, I go to the Common Core Standards and assess each with curriculum based problems, see below. The photo shows my planning document and then I transfer the problems to a student handout for the student to complete.
Fractions is one of the most challenging math topics. Many high school and college students struggle to some degree with fractions. The Common Core of State Standards (CCSS), despite all the criticism, includes components to address the conceptual understanding of fractions. Below is a photo showing a 4th grade Common Core standard regarding fractions along with an objective for a class lesson I taught at an elementary school in my district. I subsequently presented on this at the national CEC conference in 2014. Notice the bold font at the bottom, ¨justify…using a visual fraction model.¨ The photo above shows an example of a model I used in class.
The photo below shows a handout I used in the lesson. The first activity involved having students create a Lego representation of given fractions. These would eventually lead to the photo at the top with students comparing fractions using Legos. The students were to create the Lego model, draw a picture version of the model then show my co-teacher or I so we could sign off to indicate the student had created the Lego model.
The Lego model is the concrete representation in CRA. In this lesson I subsequently had students use fractions trips (on a handout) and then number lines – see photos below.
SBAC and PARC problems used to test CCSS are challenging and often draw upon context unfamiliar to students. This means students must navigate the content, problem solving and deciphering context. Below is an SBAC problem dealing with photo albums…PHOTO ALBUMS. Do kids today understand this? In the subsequent pictures you will see the work of one of my students on handouts I created that develop an understanding of the SBAC problem – note the “x-2” at the end. The idea is to shape their ability to do such problems.