Pondering Personal Assets: ASSM Day 2, Costa Mesa

The 2022 ASSM group photo. (Thanks for the photo-taking assist, Ken Krehbiel!)

I was a little skeptical when we the program committee discussed possible themes for this year's ASSM Annual Meeting, mostly because I've been to a lot of good conferences where the theme began and ended with a single line on the cover of the program book. And they were still good conferences! But thankfully, the other members of the program committee were more optimistic than I was, and they came up with a theme that focused on asset-based perspectives. Not only that, but we tried to tweak the theme for each day and have sessions to match. The theme for today was personal assets and we were on track right from the start.

Dr. Patrick Callahan of Math ANEX

Patrick Callahan gave a great session called, "Asset-based Assessments: Design and Systemic Impacts." Honestly, there's some low-hanging fruit here that works great for getting an audience of educators on the same page. The way we assess students -- with standardized and standardized-styled test, especially -- reflect deficit-based perspectives on what students know, or more accurately, don't know. Patrick had some really great examples, one of which was a composite area problem that could be solved by finding the sum of the area of two rectangles. When students get such a problem incorrect, and we don't look any further, we conclude students didn't learn. But when Patrick led us through a study of students' most common wrong answers, you got a much better idea of what students were bringing to the problem. Now, of course, nothing is perfect. Students who leave the answer blank or write "idk" still don't give you much to work with. But students who understand its a composite area problem but make a computational mistake are in a very different place than a student who multiplies all the dimensions together because they know when it comes to areas and rectangles, multiplying the length of the sides is how to get an answer. Along with some other helpful examples, Patrick helped us all think about better ways to use assessment results to focus on what students know, rather than what they don't.

Assistant Secretary Roberto J. Rodriguez

One of the perks of being in ASSM is that we bring in high-ranking people who understand our roles as state-level specialists who bridge the worlds of policy and practice. For this year's meeting, we were joined by Roberto J. Rodriguez, Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education. He covered a number of different national priorities and challenges, such as improving teacher recruiting and retention, the impact of the latest NAEP scores, and how the current culture wars are distracting from the good work that's being done and more good work that needs to be done. ASSM members use these visits to help press the USDOE on some issues, like the need for fresh approaches to accountability post-NCLB and why PAEMST awardees don't get more recognition.

NCSM President Paul Gray

We also received a visit from Trena Wilkerson, the president of NCTM, and Paul Gray, the president of NCSM. We got a sneak peek at an upcoming project that looks to build on the ideas of Catalyzing Change, and you can expect more to be shared as the week progresses and as work gets underway. We also got to see some of the new and upcoming publications coming from NCTM, and heard that they'll be refreshing their advocacy toolkit.

NCTM President Trena Wilkerson

Trena stuck around to deliver a second session, titled "Developing, Strengthening and Supporting Mathematics Instructional Systems Through Asset-Based Approaches." Again, fitting the theme for the day, we had time to listen, learn, and share with other members some of the ways we can recognize and build from the assets students bring to the classroom.

Christine Koerner (OK) and Diana Kasbaum (WI)

Lastly, we also took a few moments throughout the day to conduct ASSM business and reflect on our organization at 60 years old. Diana Kasbaum of Wisconsin shared some of her reflections, and Anne Mikesell of Ohio led an "In Memoriam" moment for a former member who passed last year. There's a timeline on the wall with some artifacts of annual meetings gone by, like copies of some old programs and other materials people gathered from past events. We each added ourselves to the timeline to mark when we each joined, and it's a skewed distribution, as you'd expect. I'm inching towards the veteran group at almost 7 years being a member, but that's a long way from the likes of Steve Leinwand and Cathy Seeley, who've been active for more than 30 years.