Changing Washington’s math curriculum takes another detour

OLYMPIA — The people revising the way students learn math in Washington would like the adults in the state to do them a favor.

Please stop saying: “Math is hard. I’ve never been good at it.”

But if math is so easy, why is the process to revise the state’s math standards taking so long?

The journey that began in the summer of 2006 with a consultant-led review of the old learning requirements is nearing its second anniversary. The new completion goal — a third extension granted by the Legislature earlier this month — is the end of summer.

Lawmakers and education officials say the process is taking so long because they want to make sure they get it right. They have a lofty goal: to finish the process with the best math system in the country.

But Rep. Dave Quall, chairman of the House Education Committee, is less than optimistic about the future of math education in Washington, despite all the money state government has spent.

“My concern is what the end result will be,” said Quall, a Mount Vernon Democrat and a retired teacher.

Will more students meet the standard? Will math be more clear to students? Will the state math standards be clear to teachers? Will it actually result in a higher level of math knowledge for the average student?

Lawmakers set aside $150,000 to add another round of reviews and public comment before the state’s new math standards are finalized and the next step can begin: choosing up to three state-recommended math programs for elementary, middle and high schools.

Fewer than 60 percent of Washington high school students are meeting the current math standards, as measured by the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. The 10th-grade pass rate for African American and Hispanic high school students is about 25 percent. And more than a third of Washington high school graduates require remedial math courses when they enter college.

Quall wonders if changes in the standards and new math books will make enough of a difference to move the math success rate past the 85 percent threshold that students have reached in reading and writing.

“We’ve got kind of a fundamental infrastructure problem,” Quall said. “I don’t want to be pessimistic. … I’m going to say we’ll see.”

Quall’s counterpart in the state Senate is more optimistic.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, said she has heard from people in her district that the state is well on its way to having high-quality math standards. The chair of the Senate Education Committee thinks choosing math programs to use in the classroom will be another challenge, because none will line up perfectly with the new standards.

She’s also concerned that school officials continue to work to help parents understand how to help their children with their math homework.

A March 10 consultant’s report said the third draft of the state math standards offers a vast improvement over the previous document. The report called the K-8 standards “close to excellent,” but said the high school section still needs more work.

State education officials are working on the fourth draft of the standards, which will be reviewed again by the consultant.

After another public comment session in April, the state Board of Education will decide in May if the fourth draft of the elementary and middle school standards plus Algebra I and Geometry standards are ready for adoption by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. They plan to make the same decision about Algebra II standards in July.

The Legislature wants to transform the way the state teaches math by 2013. In addition to revising the math learning requirements and making a list of recommended math programs, the Legislature voted this year to dump the math section of the high school Washington Assessment of Student Learning and replace it with end-of-course exams.

Meanwhile, the state Board of Education is revising the state’s graduation requirements and is leaning toward requiring a third year of math for all Washington students and toward mandating that the course be Algebra II or an equivalent.

One of the next steps for OSPI will be writing end-of-course exams for Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and the integrated math equivalents.

The deadlines on all these projects are intertwined, as are their chances of success.

Have your say

People who want to have a say in Washington’s math transformation have several ways to participate:

n On April 18, from 1:30 to 3:30, the State Board of Education will hold a special meeting to hear public comments on the proposed new math standards. The meeting will be held at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, but people from around the state will be able to join in via teleconference. Check the board’s Web site for more details closer to the meeting.

n State education officials are seeking educators to join a panel reviewing math curricula to find the programs that best match Washington’s new math standards, once they are completed.

n The State Board of Education welcomes e-mails about any of its projects via the contact section of its Web site and its meetings are open to the public. The next regular meeting of the board is May 14-15 at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham.

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