Mathematics in Context
Ames, Iowa is a city of about 50,000 and is the home of Iowa State University. It is located near the geographical center of the state. The Ames Community School District has about 5,000 students in nine elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. There are 350 to 400 students per grade level in the public schools.
The school district appointed a design team in 1990 to study current research and develop a philosophy and vision for mathematics education in Ames. There was a feeling that mathematics could be taught in better ways and the school district wanted to provide students with the best possible education. In 1991, outside consultants helped the design team establish a focus for change and during the next two years study teams reviewed ways of undertaking educational changes and implementing various instructional practices. Then from 1993 to 1995, Ames, Iowa was a field test site for Mathematics in Context (MiC). The district formally adopted MiC as its curriculum for grades 5 through 8 in 1995. In grades 5, 6 and 7 almost all students except those in special education classes are now using the MiC materials. In the eighth grade, some students study the MiC materials and some take algebra.
The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) is a multiple choice mathematics test used by a number of school districts in the nation. Currently, the school district in Ames, IA only gives the ITBS to students in odd-numbered grade levels. Table 1 below gives the 5th grade ITBS results for 1993-99 and Table 2 gives the corresponding results for grade 7. Table 3 gives the percentage of Ames 7th graders at or above the proficient level on the ITBS, while Table 4 shows the number of students scoring in the given percentiles.
Until 1997, the ITBS was the only external assessment used to measure student achievement. While the ITBS continues to be used the district began to use the New Standards Reference Exam (NSRE) in 1997 to provide a deeper look at students conceptual understanding and problem solving ability, district goals that were not being adequately assessed by the ITBS.
The New Standards Reference Exam (NSRE) is designed to show student achievement in mathematics in three areas: skills, concepts, and problem solving. Unlike the ITBS which consists of multiple choice items, the NSRE exam is made up of constructed response items. Results for the NSRE are reported in five achievement levels: little evidence of achievement, below standard, nearly achieved standard, achieved standard, and achieved standard with honors.
The following table shows the percentage of grade 8 students in 1996-97, 1997-98, and 1998-99 achieving the standard or achieving the standard with honors as compared to the percentages for the U.S.
Numbers in parentheses are the percentage of U. S. students achieving standard or standard with honors in 1998-99.
When comparing the same year results from the NSRE to that of the ITBS, it is worth noting that the scores report two different measures of achievement. The ITBS score given is the mean of National Percentage Rankings for all students in the reported cohort. These normative rankings are developed from a national sample of students previously tested by the ITBS developers. The NSRE score is the percentage of students in the reported cohort achieving a particular standard.
Acknowledgement: The Showme Center is indebted to Jean Krusi and Tony VanderZyl of the Ames, IA public school system for assistance in developing this story.