The board’s executive director, Edie Harding, said public comment required some changes to a draft report the committee circulated last month, but the basic message is the same: The state needs tougher math standards and clearer guidance for teachers, parents and students.
The draft report called for putting more emphasis on learning the mechanics of math, but Harding said the math committee learned during public hearings around the state that people thought the report came on too strong concerning memorizing basic math facts.
Washington does need to re-emphasize the mechanics of math, but not give up on teaching students how to apply what they learn and to understand how math ideas fit together, Harding said.
The report, written by Linda Plattner of the Maryland-based educational research firm Strategic Teaching, which was hired by the state to assess its math expectations, also emphasizes the need to simplify grade level expectations and to set priorities for the state’s math standards.
“That should help teachers as well as kids,” Harding said.
The focus groups also taught the math committee that they need to include a math educator in their review committee so they can hear from a teacher if the standards will work in the classroom.
Strategic Teaching Draft Report: 650K PDF:
The bottom line is that Washington’s math standards need to be strengthened. If mathematics is the gateway to student success in higher education and the workplace, Washington is getting too few of its students to and through the door.
Compared to other higher-achieving states and countries, Washington is not expecting enough of its students. There is insufficient emphasis on key mathematical content. Some key math should be taught earlier in a student’s schooling, and some key math is simply missing. Washington does not provide sufficient clarity in its math expectations and does not ensure that Washington students learn the critical algorithms — math rules — that they need to succeed.
And the standards do not provide sufficient clarity of how well students are expected to learn math. For example, the standards often call for student “understanding” rather than a demonstration that a student can actually use the math to calculate, estimate, or solve a problem.
This is a harsh assessment. To be sure, there are good qualities in Washington’s mathematics standards including well-defined and developed mathematical processes and some well-developed strands, such as Algebra in the elementary years.
The Madison School Board instructed Superintendent Art Rainwater to conduct an “Independent Math Review” as part of his annual review process. Proposed Math Review Task Force [outline] (which did not obtain the required NSF funding).
I found it interesting and useful that Strategic Teaching included a discussion “on higher achieving states and countries” acknowledging the fact that our next generation is not competing with students from only from Racine or Green Bay, but those from Helsinki, Bangalore, Moscow and many other communities around the world.