Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?

Letter to the Editor
The New York Times
December 3, 2003
(not published)

Re: Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They? (New York Times, December 3, 2003).

Any analysis of test scores is of limited value unless one strips away the statistical wrapping and examines the magnitude of alleged changes in student achievement. An important case in point is New York City's decision to adopt, at great expense, a K-5 program called Everyday Mathematics.

The adoption process was no doubt influenced by misleading claims, such as the one offered last month in testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Education, that in a study of 100,000 students, the ones taking Everyday Math and two similar programs performed significantly better than those in the control group.

What the study actually showed was that the Everyday Math cohort performed marginally better, with a mean raw score of 66.8 % as compared to 65% for the control group. That's an improvement of less than one additional correct answer on a fifty question test. That difference is statistically significant but educationally meaningless.

The majority of New York City high school graduates are unable to carry out basic operations with fractions and decimals. Programs such as Everyday Math, adopted against the advice of NYU and CUNY mathematics faculty as well as knowledgeable parents and experienced K-12 teachers, are a multimillion band-aid for a gaping wound. Much more needs to be done. Accountability and oversight, not continued squandering of funds, are sorely needed.

Stanley Ocken
Professor of Mathematics
The City College of the City University of New York

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