Sunday, November 13, 2011

Statewide pacing guide—where you should be by now

There are 60 questions on the California Standards Test (CST) in Physics. There are 180 days in the school year. A simple and informative exercise is to apply the CST content breakdown to the school year.

For example, 12 of the 60 questions relate to the reporting cluster/standard set of "Motion and Forces." That means 12/60 or 20% of the test is on motion and forces. Twenty percent of the 180-day school year is 36 days. But the math is actually simpler than that: multiply the number of CST questions on a standard set by 3 to get the number of days you might spend on it, if you felt a need to be aligned with the CST Blueprint.

Heat and Thermodynamics gets 9 questions, which means it deserves 27 days of class time. A complete table is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Standard sets/reporting clusters and the Physics CST composition.

Applying these values to my 2011-2012 school year calendar produces the result shown in Figure 2. The color legend is shown in Figure 1 (Motion and Forces is pink, etc.). The dark cells with white type show when STAR testing is administered.

Figure 2. CST Blueprint Calendar.

While this schedule might seem aggressive, it's actually not aggressive enough. Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) descends on my school after 29 weeks of instruction. Not 36; 29. If you hope to cover all tested material prior to the administration of the test, you'll need to follow the schedule shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Pure CST prep calendar, ready by test time.

What do I do? I match the state guidelines on Motion and Forces and Energy and Momentum. I shortchange Heat and Thermodynamics. And I give Electricity and Magnetism about 50 days of classroom instruction, where only 30 days are called for. That's 167% of the recommended dosage of E&M. See Figure 4.

Figure 4. Physics as scheduled at Rio Americano.


Some physics teachers devote a disproportionate amount of time to mechanics. Physics students are known to have stubborn misconceptions in this area, as illustrated by Force Concept Inventory (FCI) results. So some teachers shortchange Electricity & Magnetism in pursuit of weeding out misconceptions in mechanics.

But I would argue that while students may well harbor misconceptions in mechanics, they harbor NO conceptions in electricity and magnetism. Physics CST results bear this out, with Electricity and Magnetism underperforming all other reporting clusters/standard sets.

I cover Wave Phenomena in accordance to the recommended dosage. But we're just starting Waves when STAR tests commence. So I throw Waves under the bus more than any other standard set, in terms of pre-STAR classroom instruction time.

My schedule results in fairly even performance across the standard sets. E&M is still likely to come in last place, but not precipitously so (as was the case years ago). The details of the last 5 years can be seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Baird CST reporting clusters, 2007-2011.
As physics teachers, we are unaccustomed to anyone anywhere telling us what to cover, what not to cover, or how fast to move through the course. We all have the best program in the state. And if you're not sure, just ask us!

If you're inclined to disregard California Standards in 9-12 Physics and the CST Blueprint, I apologize for wasting your time with this note. If you're interested in improving your students' CST performance, knowing about these calendars might help with your pacing decisions.

(I hope to update this note with links to CDE resources, but their site isn't responding just now.)

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