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NCLB Outrages

Math Criteria Draw Concern

Mathematics principles (which seem loony) aside, note how while thinking about what should be taught educators have to keep one idea of NCLB requirements.

Oakland County educators are among many throughout Michigan who hope state officials will reconsider recent changes in mathematics learning standards.Unrealistic expectations being placed on students, they say, could result in youngsters being unfairly judged in academic performance and schools being unfairly judged on their quality of instruction.

Another problem, teachers and math curriculum coordinators say, is that both the state and federal governments want to see change implemented too quickly. When the state Board of Education approved the standards in November, members set them to become effective in 2005.

"Even if you think the new standards are a good thing, there are still questions over the timeline," said Valerie Mills, a mathematics learning consultant for Oakland Schools. "I'm very sure it's not a reasonable expectation, and I'm relatively sure it's not even doable."

State officials remain resolute that the standards are appropriate but are working with local educators to resolve concerns.

Jeremy Hughes, chief academic officer for the Michigan Department of Education, met with a group of educators Thursday for that purpose.

"In terms of revision of the standards, there is none being planned at this time," he said.

"What we are going to do is ... design a system that local educators can use to comment back to us on issues they encounter as they try to meet the standards.

"At the end of a period like that, we would certainly be open to sitting down and discussing some of these issues."

State learning standards provide local educators with guidelines about what students should understand at various grade levels.

Kindergarten students, for example, should understand simple addition and subtraction with sums and differences no greater than 10, and eighth-graders should be able to compare the statistical probability of two or more events occurring.

Impetus for the update of such learning standards largely comes in response to federal education reform mandates.

Federal legislation, known as No Child Left Behind, forces school districts to test all third- through eighth-graders and one high school grade level in math.

Until now, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program math test had been administered only in the fourth and eighth grades.

The federal law prompted the state board to adopt individual grade-level learning expectations rather than maintain standards that applied to a broader range of grade levels.

Mills said the change, in and of itself, does not necessarily present a problem. A new curriculum focus the state has adopted, however, does, she said.

"There appears to be a real shift away from a balance between looking at mathematical procedural skills and mathematical understanding and problem-solving abilities," Mills said.

As an example of this focus, she cited the state's new emphasis on students knowing their multiplication tables before understanding what it means to multiply numbers.

Mills said the new grade-specific standards also present problems in that some mathematical concepts are required to be mastered three years earlier than they have been.

Richard Strausz, a mathematics and computer curriculum coordinator for the Farmington school district, said this is problematic because many current students won't be adequately prepared to tackle the concepts at the grade level the state requires.

He said all eighth-graders, for example, will be expected to understand concepts currently taught in Algebra I - a course that only about a third of Farmington eighth-graders presently take.

"If we're going to do this, I'm going to want a running start," he said. "I mean, give me five or six years to work into this, but I realize (No Child Left Behind) is rather unforgiving when it comes to that."

The federal legislation calls for schools not only to implement curriculum that meets state learning benchmarks, but also to ensure students continually show improvement in academic achievement levels.

Schools that fail to show improvement in two or more years are subject to a range of reform measures that can be as extreme as complete restructuring.

State Board Member Liz Bauer of Birmingham said she sympathizes with concerns educators have about implementation of the new standards, as well as arguments that educators were largely left out of the process the state used to determine the standards.

But extended consultation with educators simply wasn't possible given federal implementation guidelines. Bauer said.

"If we had done that, we would still be writing tests two weeks before they were supposed to be taken," she argued.

Bauer added that with concentrated effort, districts can integrate the new learning expectations in curriculum. Because of the federal guidelines, there is little choice.

"We know they are high standards, and we know they will cause some people to stretch, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing," she said.

"There is a problem if students do not do well, but on the other hand, if the whole state program is flushed down the tubes because it doesn't meet the federal standards ... that isn't going to help our students either."

Educators maintain hope that students and schools won't be penalized for not living up to what they see as unrealistic expectations.

Initially, schools won't be penalized for being unable to implement new standards that vary widely with the previous benchmarks, Hughes said. And revision of some standards has not been ruled out.

"We're open to suggestions for revision, but that doesn't mean we're necessarily going to make a host of changes," Hughes said.

Mills said a host of changes is not necessary.

"I don't think anyone expects that entire (benchmarks) document to be revisited," she said. "I think many of us would be happy just to see a viable transition plan."

— Dave Groves
Math Criteria Draw Concern
Daily Oakland Press


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