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PBS students are high math achievers • ENGAGE for Sept. 27, 2017

Scott Erickson, Head of School

ENGAGE is the newsletter of the Head of School. His message to parents is reproduced here.

The head of a highly-sought-after 6–12 school in the area wrote in a September newsletter:

Our students arrive [here] having “won at school.” Often what we ask them to do when they arrive is to start to play a completely different game. Where they were once rewarded for memorization and rehearsed learning, they’re now being asked to think for themselves, to become problem solvers, not recipe followers, and to develop the confidence necessary to encounter problems they have not seen before.

I agree: Memorization and rehearsed learning are not adequate because they are not the academic skills required for success in middle school and beyond.

Good news for PBS: Our students are not recipe-followers! Our program is intentionally designed so that PBS graduates enter middle school with the skills described in this newsletter. We work every day to teach students to think for themselves, solve problems creatively, and demonstrate confidence when they encounter a new learning challenge. This is particularly true about our math curriculum. Based on my own substantial research and analysis, PBS has a strong math program, evidenced by high student achievement on external and internal measures, as well as active student engagement in classroom learning. I’m also personally committed to leading continued improvements in math teaching and learning. And I want you to have multiple opportunities to gain the same level of understanding and confidence as I have about PBS math.

So, to learn more, keep reading and make plans to attend our 2nd Annual Math Days in October, which has a rich schedule for parent observation and learning.

What’s New This Year

First, though, I’d like to draw your attention to new initiatives for growing our school:

Math Curriculum: Starting Points

Over the past three years, we have been studying and intentionally strengthening our math program with particular focus on what students need to be successful and what current research tells us about the most-effective ways to teach. Our assessment has demonstrated:

  • We have chosen the best curriculum for PBS and identified the best pedagogical inspiration, and we can articulate why.
  • Standardized tests: More than twice as many PBS 5th-graders score above average than do their independent-school peers. There is marked improvement in aggregate scores from 4th to 5th grade, which we expect to see in our learning plan.
  • PBS progress reports: Program results demonstrate consistently above-average bell curves on quantitative benchmarks for successful math learning.
  • There is a gap in aggregate program strength vis-à-vis individual achievement for some students. This does not mean that they are falling short; rather, quantitative math scores are not the way some students best show their math learning.
  • There is another gap: the reality of PBS math program strength shown in the evidence vis-à-vis parent perception and confidence. To be frank, I am flummoxed by this gap, especially given all the data provided in this article and last year. I acknowledge that the key attributes of an excellent math curriculum are very different now than in 1997, making it difficult to fully understand our program decisions and improvements. As you’ll see in the links below, PBS students are high math achievers by every important measure, offering opportunity to take our program from strong to even-stronger.

What Standardized Tests Say About PBS Math

The Educational Records Bureau (E.R.B.) administers standardized tests to measure student aptitude, learning, and achievement. Aggregate E.R.B. scores are one way to measure program quality, albeit not the primary way. We use results to make curricular refinements and identify students in need of additional challenge or support. By comparing PBS students to independent school students nationally, we gain a rigorous view of how PBS students perform in aggregate compared to their peers. Based on the evidence in these charts, we’ve learned that PBS 4th- and 5th-graders are significantly outperforming their peers in math.

What PBS Progress Reports Say About PBS Math

These were overhauled in 2012 and again in 2017, based on a thorough faculty study. One significant 2017 improvement is the inclusion of a rating system that allows for quantitative measurement. Teachers rate student performance on subject-area benchmarks, specifically on how students demonstrate independent learning – the research-based measurement of concept acuity, knowledge acquisition, and success. We’re now able to aggregate student achievement for each grade-level relative to benchmarks that are based on the PBS mission, educational philosophy, and subject-learning attributes. Based on the evidence in these charts, we’ve learned that aggregate 4th- and 5th-grade scores fall on above-average bell curves, representing a successful math program and high student achievement.

What Third-party Research Says About PBS Math

PBS has a formal review process called Curriculum Deep Dive (CDD), which includes third-party assessments to rigorously evaluate program quality and compare external with internal metrics. This element of our review process helps us avoid navel-gazing and over-reliance on perception and anecdote. We hired the research firm Art & Science to conduct interviews with math educators and administrators at nine middle schools where 78% of PBS graduates attend. The goal was to ascertain how our graduates are doing in middle school math by collecting direct information and real data from our peers. In addition, for two consecutive years, we asked Stanford-trained math expert Amanda Confer to observe, review, and report on the PBS math curriculum. Here are the key findings and recommendations from these assessments.

The Bottom Line

PBS students are high math achievers. We have a strong math program, as demonstrated by substantial evidence. We are all committed to ongoing improvements in math teaching and learning. Please join us in supporting challenge, achievement, and healthy competition in our math curriculum. Welcome to Math Days!

2nd Annual Math Days

By observing math classroom learning in action, attending GATHER, and joining family education sessions, you have an opportunity to learn a great deal about how PBS is working to challenge our math learners and ensure their continued math achievements.

Friday, October 20
  • 8:30 a.m. • Math GATHER Talk by Amanda Confer
  • 9:10–10:10 a.m. • Math Family Education Session led by Amanda Confer
  • Amanda Confer is the director of mathematics at Camino Nueva Charter Academy in Los Angeles. This role allows her to put into practice her research from her time as education specialist and master’s degree student at Stanford, where she worked closely with Professor Jo Boaler. She also has experience as a classroom teacher and instructional coach. Amanda’s visit to campus last year resulted in a helpful report on our math curriculum, and she’s excited to continue working with us.
Friday, October 27
  • 8:30 a.m. • Math GATHER Talk by Communications Manager Michael Lavigne Jr.
  • Michael, who majored in math and theater during his time at Wesleyan University, will present a talk about how he uses math on a daily basis, even though most people consider design work more “artsy” than “mathy.”
Friday, November 3
  • 8:30 a.m. • Math GATHER Talk by Cathy Williams
  • 9:10–10:10 a.m. • Math Family Education Session led by Cathy Williams
  • Cathy Williams is co-founder and executive director of Youcubed at Stanford University. She became excited about what we’re doing at PBS while observing our teachers during Jo Boaler’s full-day workshop in August 2016. Her background includes 18 years as a math teacher and teacher-leader, as well as educational leadership at the district, state, and national levels, including legislation work.
Parent Classroom Visits
  • On Tuesday morning at 7:30 a.m., you'll receive a link inviting you to sign up for visits to your child's math classes.

Scott Erickson has been Head of School at PBS since 2011. In that time, he has focused on curriculum growth, faculty support and professional development, expanding parent and community relationships, partnering with the board to strengthen the school’s financial position, and developing and implementing the school’s Strategic Action Plan. Scott enjoys reading, public speaking, projects at home, exercise, traveling, and time with family, friends, and pets.


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