MIMAUE's Colloquium Series, Spring 2007
Session IV: Setting High Standards and Increasing Opportunities (including) AP Courses for Maryland's African American Males
Dr. James Fey and Dr. Roni Jolley
Dr. James Fey is a Professor in the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Dr. Roni Jolley is the College Board Staff Liaison in the Division of Instruction at the Maryland Department of Education.
Dr. Jolley began her presentation on "Maximizing Potential: Increasing Academic Achievement Among African American Males" by providing a chronology of the efforts in the state of Maryland that have been given to maximizing the potential of African American males. The timeline included the 1993 Governor's Commission on Black Males; the1998 "Minority Achievement in Maryland: The State of the State"; the January 2001 AIMMS report; the 2003 Blue Ribbon Task Force; and the December 2006 Task Force on the Education of Maryland's African American Males. Dr. Jolley stated three of the areas for concern in the 2006 Task Force Report are: (1) the over-identification of African American males for special education, (2) a need to increase African American male participation (Gr. 10) in PSAT/ NMSQT, and (3) a need to ensure that every public high school offers an AP program with a prevalence of African American males enrolled. The three key things that assist students in their readiness for college are SAT preparation, PSAT/NMSQT, and academic rigor (i.e., Advanced Placement). In 2005-05, only 10% of Maryland's African American male students took the SAT. The scores for these African American males were significantly lower than those for the state overall. Currently, all school districts in Maryland are providing free PSAT testing for at least one grade level, usually 10th grade. Some districts (12), such as Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, and Montgomery County, will pay for at two or three grade levels to take the PSAT. These counties are using the data to inform master planning and instruction.
The PSAT is a comprehensive academic reasoning test that assesses critical reading, mathematics, and writing. These areas are deemed to be the skills needed to be successful in college and in the work force. However, African American males continue to score lower than the state overall in these three critical areas. The benefits of the PSAT and the NMSQT for African American males include a diagnostic report of their skills that helps in assessing the skills needed for college work and prepares them for the SAT. Additionally, the PSAT identifies students with advancement potential, provides an opportunity for scholarship in the junior year, and gives access to college and career planning. Further, the use of a web-based AP Potential data tool using PSAT/NMSQT data promotes equity and provides an opportunity for more African American students who have the potential to participate in advanced placement classes. This web-based tool assists schools in developing rigorous courses and reducing achievement gaps among racial groups. Dr. Jolley provided some supports that are needed for high school and middle school students:
- Have every African American male student take the PSAT/NMSQT in 10th and 11th grade
- Ensure curriculum back mapping from high school to middle school
- Provide instructional supports for students, especially first-time AP students
- Provide professional development for both middle and high school teachers
Dr. Jolley also stated that there is still work to be done which includes encouraging school districts to maximize the use of PSAT/NMSQT data to make informed curricular/learning decisions; utilizing the web-based AP Potential data tool systemically to help place students in AP courses; decreasing the achievement gap; and supporting districts as they build AP programs.
Dr. Fey articulated that the mathematics community as a whole for almost 20 years has had a central commitment to increasing access to substantial mathematics for more students. Dr. Fey's work has focused on developing curriculum materials and teaching strategies that will reach more students effectively with substantial mathematics. He further focuses on what can be done to make mathematics an attractive and successful experience for a larger number of students – making mathematics accessible to and successful for large numbers of students representative of the population as a whole. Dr. Fey discussed two major points from the literature that are believed to be effective with a diverse student population and he shared some strategies that have been implemented to support this literature. Acknowledging that mathematics as a subject is abstract and does not seem very important in the lives of most students, he stated that beyond basic arithmetic, it is hard to show students that mathematics is something at which they should work hard and that is relevant in their lives. To attract students to mathematics and have them be successful, problems that students can relate to, things that are interesting to them, and issues that are important to society and the future must be used. Dr. Fey and his colleagues have developed curriculum materials to support instruction that reverses the traditional approach to mathematics and teaches students to learn the theory first and then apply it to something meaningful. Instead, these scholars suggested that the mathematical principles should arise out of encounters with situations that are inherently mathematics. Most of the reform curriculum projects for the past 20 years have developed materials that engage students in problems that are situated in imaginably real situations and to engage students in solving problems as opposed to watching the teacher show them how to do them. In essence, to attract students who have not bought into the "game of school," you should first situate mathematics into a context that is meaningful to the students.
Dr. Fey has not chosen to embed mathematics into historical, cultural, non-European contexts; rather, he believes students will be attracted by mathematical contexts that are evident in their lives such as gaining profits from recording CDs, the physics of amusement park rides, the time needed for performance enhancing drugs to disappear from an athlete's body and not be detected by a random drug test, and the statistics of random sampling of lockers. To make the curriculum attractive, Dr. Fey suggests bringing mathematics out of a context that the students can recognize and involving questions that are interesting to them. Basically, this conveys a sense of purpose that the students find relative. Another research theory about reaching student from diverse culture backgrounds is that a conventional classroom environment where the students sit quietly in rows, are shown by the teacher, and then mimic the teacher is not a very engaging environment. Most students really want to be actively engaged talking to each other and talking to the teacher in an interactive community. Dr. Fey and his colleagues built an instructional model that has students actively engaged in collaborative work on problems, engage in discussion, work for a while on the problem, share their thoughts with the class, then have more discussion. This is based on the research that addresses the kinds of environments that seem attractive to students and seem to honor cultural, oral, and social interactive traditions of cultures—an alternate instructional model for mathematics classrooms. Dr. Fey also spoke to the use of hands-on, tactile, kinesthetic experiments in high school classes. In essence, for students to be successful in upper level courses, they must have a strong foundation, they must be taught in environments that are conducive to learning, and they must participate in instruction that is engaging.