On Monday and Tuesday of this week, NCAA men’s and women’s basketball played their final games of the season, ending March Madness, albeit in April. Our Mississippi Math Madness ended in a similar fashion for me this past Monday and Tuesday. On Monday evening, a math colleague from a different district emailed me. “Virge, am I hallucinating? I went back to look at the Questar Algebra I Sampler, and there’s not a tomato problem anymore? I even did a document search for the word “tomato” — nothing?” Then , on Tuesday morning, a visitor from a neighboring district took a professional day to shadow me and learn as much as she could about teaching.
First, about the tomatoes. If you read my initial post about the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE’s) math testlets, you know that I was not only concerned about the flawed MDE questions but also about the Questar item sampler which contained errors in its answer key. If this is the testing agency that is supposed to be evaluating our students’ algebra content knowledge, I wasn’t very confident that my students’ score would be an accurate capture of said knowledge. I (and I am sure many others) had emailed repeatedly about the mistakes, and a few minor changes were made, but the tomato problem remained. The question itself wasn’t poor, actually, it was that the on-line testing platform would not allow a student to enter the “is less than or equal to” symbol, which was crucial for writing the correct inequality. Then, in the answer portion of the question, “12.5 tomatoes” was an allowed answer. My students had a field day with that one. Needless to say, five months after its original publication this fall, and three weeks to go before the testing window opens, the question is GONE.
Second, about the visitor. Back in March when everything was madly swirling around these math testlets, I received many emails from teachers throughout the state who thanked me for demanding action. Several emails went like this, “Your blog made me feel so much better. You wrote everything I wanted to say. I am the only algebra one teacher in my very small district and we do not have any curriculum specialists. I though I was crazy when I was trying to work the math testlet and was not getting the correct answers.” One teacher actually wanted to visit my classroom and so we agreed on a date and yesterday we got to meet face-to-face. Her administration granted her a professional day (yeah for great administrators!), and she spent the day with me. She observed how I run my classroom (which PS is not anything earth shattering) and what materials we use for review and asked a million questions about everything from motivating students to pacing. She was so appreciative of everything she acquired from me. Now we are new math friends!
As I think about this past year and all of my years teaching, I realize that these small victories and affirmations are what keep us going as teachers. Often times they come from students and parents, but in this case they came from a testing company and a brand-new colleague. It is so vital to support and thank teachers.
And now… let’s calculate the surface area of a tomato… or maybe a basketball…