Washington State’s Math Standards Review

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

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.

One thought on “Washington State’s Math Standards Review”

  1. Why couldn’t we, as a community, while we wait for an independent math review, simply do the work to advance mathematics in Madison? NSF funding would be nice, but I can already provide you with some good recommendations:
    – higher standard for performance (their are plenty of sources for such standards)
    – more training for teachers. Summer job opportunities in health, science and technology fields – in exchange for support during the school year from the company.
    – more opportunities for scientists and engineers
    in the classroom, ranging from visiting, tutoring, small group mentoring, to mentoring advanced math groups.
    – a laptop on loan program. Laptops that are a bit outdated for business use could be loaded with educational software and simply shared with kids to take home with them for math and programming projects.
    – a questionaire to students, asking them what would be needed to get them just a bit more interested in math.
    – investment clubs
    – a newspaper column from kids, encouraging mathematical explorations, codes, computer programming, and careers for those willing to work on the math.
    – more problem-based learning, requiring lots of sampling, statistics, plotting, spreadsheets, and some simulation.
    – geek of the week posts in the newspaper or a Madison-wide blog. Kind of like “Meet your Madisonian” in the Isthmus, only focusing on the math/science mindset.
    Some of these ideas could be implemented this year, others may take a bit of funding and coordination. All of them can be fun and should be within our grasp as a community!
    Feel free to add your own ideas.

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