Puerto Rico NAEP Results -Why the wheels of education don’t turn

El currículo actual le da mucho énfasis a los cálculos aritméticos (sumar, restar, multiplicar y dividir). Con lo accesible de las calculadoras es necesario que repensemos si se justifica tanto tiempo en la enseñanza de esos algoritmos. —Ana Helvia Quintero (Subsecretary of Education)

“We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”—G.K. Chesterton.

The 2003 and 2005 NAEP results for Puerto Rico, which up to now were a well kept secret, have finally been released. As expected, the results are catastrophic. Puerto Rico came last -by far- among all states; 2 standard deviations below the national average, or 1 standard deviation below Washington DC, the worst in the country until now — (s.d. is ~2.9 at grade 4, and ~3.6 at grade 8). Washington DC is very grateful to PR for its results.

It is significant that Puerto Rico has refused millions in Federal Funds to teach phonics —the scientifically preferred method of teaching reading while at the same time accepting NSF funds/bribes promoting the replacement the traditional algorithms by calculator based “graph calisthenics”. Unfortunately, the twin viruses of constructivism and whole language have for many years been dominant ideologies in the education schools in Puerto Rico (click here for a detailed discussion). The NAEP results now point to an urgent need for a radical change in these teaching practices.

Highlights of Puerto Rico NAEP Results

2003 Score Results
Fourth-graders in Puerto Rico had an average score of 179 on the NAEP mathematics assessment in 2003. This was below both the national average score of 222 for low-income public school students and the average score of 234 for all public school students. At grade 8, Puerto Rico students had an average score of 212. The national average for low-income students was 258; for all students, 276.

2003 Achievement-Level Results
9 percent of Puerto Rico fourth-graders scored at or above Basic, as compared to 76 percent nationally. The “at or above Basic” category includes students at Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. At the eighth grade, 4 percent of Puerto Rico students scored at or above Basic, as compared to 67 percent nationally.

2005 Score Results
The fourth-grade mathematics average score was 183, which was below both the national average of 237 and the low-income national average of 225. At grade 8, the Puerto Rico average was 218, also below both the low-income and the overall national average scores.

2005 Achievement-Level Results: Grades 4 and 8
Twelve percent of Puerto Rico grade 4 students scored at or above Basic, compared to 79 percent nationally. Six percent of Puerto Rico grade 8 students were at or above Basic, compared to 68 percent nationally.

2005 Results by Content Area
In both grade 4 and grade 8 Puerto Rico students scored below the national average in all five areas.

In both years so few students scored at the “proficient” or “advanced” level that the percentages rounded to zero.

The perrenial excuse

A glance at the cover of following widely used textbook shows why the wheels of education fail to turn.

Precálculo por Waldo A. Torres

According to a recent article in El Nuevo Dia :

El subsecretario de asuntos académicos de Educación, Waldo Torres, planteó que una traducción puede ser técnicamente correcta, pero no necesariamente atender el contexto cultural. Sostuvo, por ejemplo, que el uso de una voz pasiva o activa en una pregunta puede cambiarle el sentido.

This is not the first time that government officials have blamed poor translation for the abysmal NAEP results. In fact, following the catastrophic results of 2003, serious efforts were made to provide an accurate translation of the 2005 NAEP exam.

Below are some of the NAEP math test questions:

  1. N representa el número de horas que Daniel duerme cada noche. ¿Cuál de las siguientes opciones representa el número de horas que Daniel duerme en 1 semana?
    (a) N+7     (b) N-7     (c ) N \times 7     (d)  N \div 7
    — Answered correctly by 30% of 4th graders.
  2. Un club necesita vender 625 boletos. Si ya ha vendido 184 boletos a adultos y 80 boletos a niños,   ¿cuántos más necesita vender?
    — Answered correctly by 6% of 4th graders.
  3. En la curva de arriba, ¿cuál es el mejor estimado del valor de x cuando y = 0?
    — Answered correctly by 22% of 8th graders.
  4. El año pasado una compañía tenía 90 empleados. Este año el número de empleados aumentó en un 10 por ciento. ¿Cuántos empleados hay en la compañía este año?
    — Answered correctly by 11% of 8th graders.
  5. Un paquete de dulces tenía sólo 10 dulces rojos, 10 azules y 10 verdes. José sacudió el paquete, lo abrió y empezó a sacar y comerse un dulce a la vez. Los primeros dos dulces que sacó y comió eran azules. José dice que la probabilidad de sacar un tercer dulce azul es de 10/30 ó 1/3. ¿Es correcto o incorrecto lo que dice José?
    — Answered correctly by 1% of 8th graders.

The reader can judge for himself the quality of the translation and whether or not cultural context into account. However, bear in mind that