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Originally published Friday, March 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Capital Watch

Report: Better prep for algebra needed

U.S. students' math achievement is "at a mediocre level" compared with that of their peers worldwide, according to a new report by a federal...

U.S. students' math achievement is "at a mediocre level" compared with that of their peers worldwide, according to a new report by a federal panel, which recommended that schools focus on key skills that prepare students to learn algebra.

"The sharp falloff in mathematics achievement in the United States begins as students reach late middle school, where, for more and more students, algebra course work begins," said the report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, appointed two years ago by President Bush. "Students who complete Algebra II are more than twice as likely to graduate from college compared to students with less mathematical preparation."

The report, adopted unanimously by the panel Thursday and presented to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, said that prekindergarten-to-eighth-grade math curriculums should be streamlined and focus on skills such as the handling of whole numbers and fractions and certain aspects of geometry and measurement.

Alaska's senators eye ANWR's oil

With oil hitting $110 a barrel, gasoline prices reaching record highs and energy costs growing prohibitive, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Thursday it's time to reconsider oil exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

She and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, introduced legislation to open up ANWR should oil prices reach $125 for five straight days.

"You get to a point where maybe there is a tipping point when it comes to driving action on an issue like ANWR," Murkowski said.

The 1.2 million-acre coastal strip has long been protected from efforts to open the area east of the Prudhoe Bay oil field to energy companies.

"I can't believe that they would do this again; that dog won't mush," said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington D.C. "There are millions of acres of land and water available to oil and gas leasing. They don't need ANWR for that."

Sex-assault reports in military decline

WASHINGTON — Reports of sexual assaults in the military declined last year, reversing a trend of significant increases over the past several years, according to draft documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

The number of sexual assaults reported by military members in 2007 was 2,688, compared with 2,947 in 2006, a decline of about 9 percent. Officials note, however, that some changes in the data-reporting make it difficult to compare numbers year to year. In 2005, there were about 2,400 sexual assaults reported.

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Also

Emilio Gonzalez, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that grants citizenship, is stepping down April 18 after a tenure in which he drastically increased the cost of becoming an American but failed to reduce the amount of time people must wait.

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