San Diego Unified looks to move away from standardized math testing

November 30, 2021

The San Unified School District is looking to change up the way it tests math skills — reducing the reliance on standardized testing and potentially setting up more students for success.

The district says that it has been working for years to fix the way it teaches math. Back in 2019, it surveyed students and found that many couldn’t explain concepts or what their answers meant. The survey also indicated that certain groups of students were succeeding while others were doing worse, the La Jolla Light reported

One option to address those issues would be a move away from standardized math testing and toward new tests that lack multiple-choice questions and require students to write out their answers.

This new districtwide math test asks students to explain how they’re using math formulas and concepts. That’s a step away from simple computation, which math instructional coordinator Alexandra Martinez says doesn’t help students when they graduate.

“This narrow focus really resulted in an overemphasis on procedural skills at the expense of being able to apply creative solutions to solve real-world problems,” she said.

Additionally, the reliance on standardized testing also means that certain demographics, including low-income students or those with disabilities, do worse than their peers. One reason why comes down to access to resources such as summer programs or tutoring.

The new testing system doesn’t just measure correct answers, either. It also scores a student’s knowledge and application of math concepts, as well as their ability to explain their reasoning.

While, on its own, the new tests likely won’t bring better math results, they could provide teachers with more detail on what knowledge students hold so they can tailor lessons to those needs.

“An assessment itself is not going to close the gap,” said Wendy Ranck-Buhr, an instructional support officer for San Diego Unified. “It’s to show opportunities for teaching, where teachers can give more targeted feedback for students.”

About the author: Mike Peterson is a freelance journalist and writer based in North San Diego County. He’s written and worked for a number of local media outlets, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, the North Coast Current, and the Oceanside Blade.

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