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August 29, 2013

The more we learn, the less we understand ...

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — We have long thought that learning is a life time undertaking. In fact, we cannot imagine a life in which the opportunity to learn does not exist. And although there are no doubt those who would think some learning might be deemed more important or meaningful, we have never found that to be the case. And we have also counted ourselves lucky that we have never been lacking when it comes to learning something new.

Thus, when we first learned the results of last spring’s ELA and math tests at Cooperstown Central School, we knew we had found yet another learning opportunity. Of all the test scores from grades three through eight, the math scores from eighth grade seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. Only 13 percent of the students scored in Level Three, where students are considered proficient in standards for the grade, while an additional 6.5 percent of the students scored in Level Four, where students are considered to excel in standards for the grade. Of all the grades, the eighth grade scores were the lowest, something that made us wonder why.

In fact, we were led to wonder how we, who began our college career at the University of Michigan as a mathematics major, might fair with the math test. And although a copy of the exact test is not available, as we suspect it is a deep, dark state secret, we were able to look at a number of sample questions online. And, much as we hate to admit this, we felt we were less than successful with the eighth grade math. So we went back to the third grade to see how we might do at that level. Again we ran into problems as we discovered, much to our horror, that we no longer know the terminology that is evidently being used in the current math curriculum.

We had no idea what a “number sentence” might be. We were also clueless about a triangle’s “point of origin.” And we can’t ever remember having to identify the “sequence of transformations” which would take triangle A to triangle B. And while we know our formal math experience was a long time ago, we do not remember ever being asked to simplify the fraction four to the eighth power over four to the negative fourth power.

In fact, we cannot emphasize enough how relieved we were when we discovered we had no difficulty when we finally got to a problem we actually not only understood, but also thought might actually have a practical application. We had no trouble with: “A water tank is in the shape of a right circular cylinder with a height of 20 feet and a volume of 320(pi) cubic feet. What is the diameter, in feet, or the water tank?” Nonetheless,we do understand only too well that there is a great opportunity for learning when it comes to current mathematics, especially in terms of terminology.

We have also discovered that we have a great opportunity to learn more about navigating a number of websites. It is obvious that our skills, which we thought served us well, are now deficient. In fact we were recently forced to call two local organizations to ask how one might find things on their websites.

We first encountered trouble with the village of Cooperstown’s website. In the past we had been able to find both the agendas for and minutes of the Board of Trustees’ meetings. And suddenly we discovered these items were lurking we knew not where.

However, a call to the village office cleared up our navigation problems although it did not help us find what we were looking for, namely a copy of the village’s contract for the Furthur concert as well as a financial statement for the concert. For those two items we found it necessary to file a FOIL request, the response to which we are awaiting with baited breath.

And we also found ourselves having trouble with the Cooperstown Central School website. In some ways this did not surprise us as we have always seemed to have trouble with the CCS website. But this time we could find neither the agenda for the Aug. 21 school board meeting or the minutes from the school board meeting of July 10. Once again, however, a telephone call helped us find both the agenda and the minutes in question. Unfortunately, we have been wondering if that was good or bad.

While looking through the agenda we perused the textbook requests of which there were a number. And while we knew that the cost of textbooks has gone up of late, it gave us pause when we figured out that the cost for the 365 textbooks was upwards of $28,000 dollars. We also found ourselves puzzling over the explanation given regarding the need to purchase a certain textbook. It read: “This will complete K-6 NYS Common Core alignment in ELA with Pearson and allow for consistency and scaffolding skills.” We would tend to put “scaffolding skills” right up there with “number sentence,” “point of origin” and “sequence of transformations. We are clueless.

And we only wish we were equally clueless about the fact that it seems, given the textbook requests, that students at CCS in the seventh and eighth grades are once again, or perhaps still, being divided by ability into sections 7-1, 7-2 and 7-3 as well as 8-1, 8-2 and 8-3. This concept chilled us to the bone over 25 years ago when we had to decide whether the kid was a 7-1, 7-2 or 7-3. And even though we have no one in the school, it still chills us to the bone today.

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