I recently submitted my SMART goals to my evaluator using TeachPoint. Last year I wrote about my student learning goal, and thought I would share this year’s as well.

Our school is in the process of implementing the “Using Data Process” from Research for Better Teaching. We’ve spent some PD time diving into our MCAS results (the MA Standardized test) and trying to identify student learning problems. One that my colleagues and I recognize, is the gap between average open response question scores between our students who pass with proficiency, and those who do not. The average open response score was a 1.7 for my students who scored failure/needs improvement, while the average score was 3.1 for my students who scored proficient and advanced. There are six open response questions on the test, which makes for a pretty big gap when you multiply it out. Therefore, my SMART goal for the year:

I will incorporate MCAS open response questions on in-class assignments, homework, and assessments so that 80% of my Honors Algebra 1 students will score a 3 or 4 (using the DESE rubric) on at least two MCAS Open Response questions by the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.

I am going to record students’ scores using an Excel document, provide written feedback to students, and have students peer/self assess on some of the questions. I’m also going to try to figure out why the scores are so much lower. Do students not understand the questions or not know how to do it? Are they simply leaving the open response questions blank? Are they only answering part of the questions? I’m not sure that I’ll be able to answer all of these, but I’m hoping to find some insight over the course of the year.

One of my predictions is that students are not fully answering the questions and explaining all of their work. Since I don’t want students to feel like they are doing MCAS questions all the time, we can practice this skill when doing any of our other activities. We’ll focus on explaining what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and probing students to dig deeper. And that’s on me to ask the right questions.

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I found that my students didn’t always have the language to describe what they were processing as they solved problems. Having them work on the descriptive language is a great idea!

We have identical problems with the ‘nearing proficient’ and ‘not proficient’ math students in our school. They flounder with open response questions. We math teachers in grades 7 – 12, in writing our SMART goals, have discovered that the same students almost always have low reading/language test scores. It’s easy to assume that reading and language problems will lead to students’ inability to a) understand the problem; and b) construct a coherent response with an accurate mathematical solution. I find in my classroom that many students just give up on these types of questions. They’d rather miss a few points on a test or assignment than persevere because they don’t understand what a problem is asking them to do. Sometimes they legitimately don’t get it…other times they’re too lazy to stick with it.

We’ve been working hard this year on word problems and open response questions. My students are not allowed to skip problems anymore. We talk often about the eight CCSS Mathematical Practices and what they mean, why they’re important, and how to use them. I keep telling them that math in the real world isn’t about worksheets. It’s about applied knowledge and problem solving. I know this will offend some math teachers, but I think we too often avoid the types of problems that have significant depth and real-life application, and that require language and analytic skills because they are harder to teach and harder to learn.

I think your strategies are well-designed. I agree that you can practice problem-solving skills with any activity. I’m seeing a big difference in my students’ ability to articulate their mathematical thoughts due to daily peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher discussions. I require that they use correct math vocabulary and avoid general terms like ‘stuff’ and ‘thingy’. They have to be able to construct and defend an argument as well as try to understand others’ arguments. Their progress with written responses has been slower, but I’m hoping that we’ll see growth there by the end of the year as well.

Hi Susan, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I love your connection the 8 practices and the importance of applying knowledge/problem solving. I’m glad to hear that you’re seeing a difference in your students’ abilities with your extra focus this year, I hope I see the same!

Could you please tell me where I might locate some of these “open-response” problems? I have been searching and searching. The ones in our textbooks are a bit out of date. Appreciate any ideas!! I teach algebra 1 and algebra 1a.

Sure, if you google “MCAS Question Search Math” then the first option should lead you to the Massachusetts MCAS bank. Then you can change the question type to “Open Response” to search just those types.

Thank you so very, very much!!! I found them.