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Originally published Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Gregoire proposal would aid math, science

Two weeks after recommending a delay in math requirements for high-school graduates, Gov. Christine Gregoire on Monday announced a $197...

Seattle Times staff reporters

Two weeks after recommending a delay in math requirements for high-school graduates, Gov. Christine Gregoire on Monday announced a $197 million math and science initiative that would put more teachers in the classroom and provide additional help for struggling students.

The governor also said she would push for changes in the math section of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). About 49 percent of sophomores statewide failed the math portion of the WASL last spring.

"It is our 'Are we going to the moon?' day," she said. "This generation, either we're going to get math right, so our kids can compete in the world economy, or we're not."

In the coming weeks, Gregoire is expected to roll out further educational funding priorities, including all-day kindergarten and reduced class size for kindergarten through third grade.

The proposal, which attaches dollar amounts to her Washington Learns report, was welcomed by various legislators, the state teachers union and the Washington Roundtable, a business-oriented advocacy group, although they differed on some of the details.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate praised Gregoire's ideas.

Gregoire's budget proposal


Reducing middle- and high-school math and science class size: One teacher for every 25 students. $90.2 million.

Math and science teachers: Recruit 750 additional teachers at middle and high schools and invest in training. $61.9 million.

Hands-on science learning: Expand public-private partnership that provides tool kits for science projects. $12.1 million.

Help for struggling students: Test preparation and tutoring to help high-school students graduate. $12.5 million.

Math and science scholarships: College scholarships for math and science. $14 million.

International standards, curriculum and testing: Identify no more than three K-12 math curricula to be adopted statewide, identify science standards and curricula. $4.9 million.

Integrated math, science, technology and engineering: Purchase software, computers, equipment and training, and attract private-sector resources. $1.3 million.

Source: Office of the Governor

"I'm tickled she's addressing it and focusing on math and science. That's clearly where the WASL showed the system is actually failing the kids. Focusing on that is a great idea," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.

Kessler said House Democrats will need to see how the proposal fits in with other items in the upcoming budget but noted the governor's plan "is focused and that's exactly what we need right now."

Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, also liked Gregoire's plan and said it was "the best thing I've seen proposed on math since I've been in the Legislature."

The state works on a two-year budget cycle. Last year the Legislature passed a $26 billion operating budget for 2005-07. Tax collections have far exceeded expectations this year, and the governor's budget office now projects lawmakers will have about a $1.9 billion surplus, though almost half of that is expected to be spent on pay raises for state workers and additional health-care costs.

Lawmakers this winter are expected to take up a recommendation by Gregoire, the State Board of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson to delay the math WASL as a graduation requirement, at least until 2011. The class of 2008 is the first that is required to pass the reading, writing and math sections of the WASL to graduate. The science WASL becomes a requirement in 2010.

Gregoire said she wanted the WASL to be revised to place greater balance between students' ability to answer a question and their ability to explain how they arrived at the answer. The two represent different approaches to math education and have been so controversial that they are often referred to as the "math wars."

"What we're saying is the math war will probably settle on [the idea that] you need to do both, you need to know how to get to the answer and need to get to the answer," Gregoire said.

Charles Hasse, president of the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said his group was particularly pleased with the promise to reduce the size of middle- and high-school math and science classes from an average of 28 students to 25 students.

That's the component least liked by the Washington Roundtable, said Marc Frazer, vice president. "It's not likely to give the biggest bang for the buck," he said. Statistics show improved student performance only when the ratio dips to 15 students per teacher.

Frazer applauded the governor's focus on math and science but warned the state must produce students who possess stronger skills for both the workplace and college. "Even with a refined WASL, we need to go well beyond the skills it is measuring," Frazer said.

Gregoire touted her proposals on Monday at Garfield High School in Seattle, commending the math teachers there for embracing new instructional techniques.

Garfield is one of three Seattle high schools benefiting from a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to promote group learning and integrating math into classroom activities.

Less than half of the ninth-graders at Garfield went on to 10th-grade math two years ago, but that increased to 83 percent last year.

It's a big financial investment, said Lani Horn, a professor at the University of Washington's College of Education, which is managing the grant in partnership with the Seattle School District, but the early improvements are "huge in terms of potential WASL results."

"This school is a model of exactly what we want to have around the state," Gregoire said. "They brought in the kind of programs we are announcing and funding, and they turned it around. This is something our students can do. Don't give up on these kids, we need to get our act right."

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com

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