State math standards too low, new review says
An outside review of Washington's standards for mathematics found them sorely lacking — with key concepts missing, a lack of focus...
Seattle Times education reporter
The new report on the state's math standards: www.sbe.wa.gov
Meetings about mathThe State Board of Education meets today and Friday in Spokane to discuss math standards, as well as increasing graduation requirements in a number of subjects, including English, social studies, foreign language and math. Final decisions aren't planned for several months.
The public is invited to discuss math at a focus group scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Puget Sound Educational Service District office, 800 Oakesdale Ave. S.W., Renton.
An outside review of Washington's standards for mathematics found them sorely lacking — with key concepts missing, a lack of focus and insufficient clarity, especially when it comes to the basics.
Consultant Linda Plattner, hired by the state Board of Education, says Washington expects too little of its students in math, even though roughly 40 percent of Washington 10th-graders fail math each year on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).
Echoing concerns from a grass-roots parents group, Plattner also said Washington needs to be clearer about the need for students to memorize basic math facts and learn standard methods of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
"Washington's standards are too far on the conceptual side," she wrote.
The report is preliminary, to be finalized in August after input from the state Board of Education, a math panel that the board appointed, and the general public. Plattner will present the initial findings to the state board today. The first of three public focus groups was held Tuesday in Spokane; the third will be Tuesday in Renton. The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction will use the report to rewrite the standards in time to present them to the Legislature in January.
The review covers what the state's math standards say teachers are supposed to teach — not what they actually cover in class.
When completed, it will be the first step in an in-depth review of mathematics that's under way as state leaders try to figure out how to raise the passage rate on the math WASL. Curriculum, teacher training and the WASL itself will be examined, and more.
The effort follows a decision by state legislators earlier this year to delay the year, from 2008 to 2013, when high-school students must pass math on the WASL to graduate. The problem, legislators concluded, was with the system, not the students.
Some of the recommendations of this new report, however, would increase the WASL's difficulty.
"If we move in the direction that this report wants to move in ... we're going to have a harder test," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. "It's not going to solve the math-score problem overnight."
Plattner's report compares Washington's math standards with three other states (California, Indiana and Massachusetts), two nations (Finland and Singapore), and recommendations from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and three other groups.
The math standards in those states and nations have received high marks from a variety of groups, said Plattner, a former Washington teacher who helped write the standards. She left the state more than 10 years ago.
A lot to criticize
The report praised Washington for the algebra taught in elementary school, and for well-developed "mathematical processes," which include communication, reasoning and problem solving. But it also found a lot to criticize.
In elementary school, for example, Plattner said her reviewers — two dozen out-of-state math teachers and professors — found students in Washington are expected to learn about 25 percent less math than the average of the comparison states, nations and organizations. In high school, she said, it was just 50 percent.
She said the reviewers found that some math concepts are introduced later in Washington than elsewhere. Fractions, for example, are taught to Washington fourth-graders, but to second-graders in Singapore and California.
She also said, however, that she's sure that Washington teachers cover some of what the standards miss, such as odd and even numbers in elementary school.
Plattner said Washington's standards, like many states, suffer from the widely discussed "mile wide, inch deep" syndrome, where teachers are expected to cover too many topics, without clear priorities.
If teachers have a chance to teach fewer topics more deeply and completely, she said, then classes can be harder and students will learn more in less time.
Plattner's preliminary report delighted members of Where's the Math?, a grass-roots parents group that has been pushing for more emphasis on basic math and standard algorithms.
"We are thrilled," said Julie Wright, one of the group's founders and a former elementary teacher.
The report, she said, "validates what we've been hearing from parents and teachers throughout the state."
Bergeson and others, however, stressed that the report also affirmed the importance of conceptual understanding.
Bergeson said she didn't agree with everything in the report but said there were a lot of good points.
"We have a lot of work to do, but I think it's work that's going to take us to the next level," she said.
In the Seattle School District, administrators Michelle Corker-Curry and Rosalind Wise liked recommendations that Washington increase rigor in math and prioritize what's taught at each grade level.
But they questioned why Plattner didn't compare Washington with states with high math achievement, not just well-regarded standards. Washington, for example, scores higher than California in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published July 18, 2007, was corrected July 19, 2007. A headline Thursday incorrectly said a consultant reviewed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test and recommended the state should return to math basics. The consultant actually reviewed the state's math standards for K-12 education and said the standards were too low.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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