Undermining Math Education in our State

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As many of you know, improving math education is of particular interest to me--particularly since I see on a daily basis the poor math skills of many entering UW students. And I was stunned by the questionable materials provided to my own children. I am active in a group called wheresthemath.com, which includes thousands of parents and educators from throughout the state trying to do something about it.

Two years ago the State legislature got tired of the terrible math standards (or requirements) in our State and took authority away from Terry Bergeson, then Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ms. Bergeson was an advocate of discovery math (a.k.a. fuzzy or reform math), which is weak on fundamentals, but heavy on calculator use, group learning, and writing about math. Under her watch, discovery math came to dominate our K-12 schools, and student math skills declined.

Today somewhat improved math standards are in place (better, but far below what they should be) and the new Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has instructed his staff to drop the math WASL and to develop new End of Course assessments. But the problem is that he did not replace Bergeson's old staff and they are committed to keeping the poor Discovery math in place. One of his senior math education staff testified FOR the poorly reviewed Discovering Algebra and Geometry series when considered by the Seattle Board of Education. With her encouragement, the Board voted to acquire these extraordinarily bad high school math books (rated "mathematically unsound" by mathematicians hired by the State Board of Education). But that is not the worst of it, OSPI staff are now editing the new state standards so that only portions they like will be tested.

Recently, Dorn's staff released the Test Development Guidelines that will guide the writing of new WA standardized tests. These are on the OSPI website in the What's New box at this link: http://www.k12.wa.us/assessment/WASL/Mathematics/default.aspx. In these guidelines, bold text is used to indicate what parts of each state math standard should be tested.

Even a cursory examination of these guidelines reveals that state standards are being compromised to further a Discovery math agenda. Fluency, competency, and standard algorithms are not deemed important enough for evaluation. To illustrate this problem, consider the following key grade 3 standard, with the bold text representing content to be assessed:

"3.1.C Fluently and accurately add and subtract whole numbers using the standard regrouping algorithms." (page12)

As you can see, neither fluency nor standard algorithms will be tested. The same undermining was applied to multiplication and division, with none of this standard bolded:
“4.1.A Quickly recall multiplication facts through 10 X 10 and the related division facts. “ (page26)

So none of our state students have to worry about knowing multiplication and division facts very well! So students won't have to know that 4x5=20, or 36/6=6!
According to discovery math supporters, that's for calculators to know, not kids.

And the same treatment is given to fractions and other key mathematical skills.

You can look through the rest yourself, but the bottom line is that the State math standards are being gutted by these folks. Fluency in basic operations will not be tested and they are trying to push the reform approach of heavy reliance on calculators and inefficient discovery-math algorithms (a good video on fuzzy math was made by fellow meteorologist M.J. McDermott, who is also a member of wheresthemath.com: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1qee-bTZI).

Randy Dorn campaigned with a promise to clean up the math mess in our state, so each child could get a world class math education. It is time he replaced the Bergeson dead-enders who are undermining his intentions and maintaining the failed policies of the past. Editing standards is clearly subverting the expressed written intent of the Washington State legislature and the needs of our state.
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