Prof. Jo Boaler is absolutely correct in her recent Ed Week article titled “Timed Tests and the Development of Math Anxiety“ in stating “… the schools in the United States [are] heading down a fast-moving track in which the purpose of math has been reduced to the ranking of children and their schools. Math has become a performance subject.” As a parent of two boys, I can attest to the undue emphasis on speed, ranking, and “right answers” in recent primary school mathematic’s pedagogy and curricula with its deleterious influence on children’s perceptions of mathematics. In fact, I blogged about this just yesterday.
Furthermore, Prof. Boaler’s concern about the Common Core exacerbating math anxiety is right on target. In fact, she is too kind when she says “Many test writers, teachers, and administrators erroneously equate fluency with timed testing.” It is no error on their part when they equate fluency with timed testing. They do so since one of the key architects of Common Core, David Coleman, explicitly defines CCSSM’s use of fluency to mean speed, as the following summary by David Ginsburg, in a recent Ed Week post, reveals.
“School leaders and math teachers must therefore understand the instructional implications of CCSS in addition to the content implications. This is why I begin Math CCSS training with a discussion of six shifts in instruction associated with CCSS:
1. Focus: fewer topics covered in greater depth
2. Coherence: connect learning within and across grades
3. Fluency: perform mathematics with speed and accuracy
4. Understanding: use mathematics in complex situations
5. Application: know when and how applying math can solve a problem
6. Dual Intensity: achieve fluency and conceptual understanding/application.”
Worse, including fluency in ‘dual intensity’ unfortunately amps up the emphasis on speed. For those who may question Mr. Ginsburg’s interpretation, watch the following video to hear David Coleman make these claims in his own words.
I do not question Mr. Coleman’s genuine desire to help all students achieve to the highest levels possible. I do question whether emphasizing speed as a desirable attribute is beneficial, since it will spur those using the CCSSM to measure speed, which is not a necessary, or even desired, trait for a mathematician, scientist, or other user of mathematical thinking.
Haste makes waste as grandma used to say.
PS Full disclosure: I am a former student of Prof. Boaler. I agree with much of her perspective and have tremendous respect for her. However, I did not hesitate to state my opinion in class on certain statements / implications, such as “math is fun,” to further discourse on the matter.