Number crunching: For many, WASL mathematics just doesn’t add upBY AMY CODISPOTI | JOURNAL REPORTER Governor and State Superintendent urge three
“We think this is the best way to move forward,” said Bergeson.
This may come as good news to the class of 2008, more than 50 percent of whom failed the math part of the statewide test.
“It’d be nice if it’s delayed, because I’m not very good at math,” said Steven Thomas of Lake Stevens, a junior at Hillcrest Academy and Sno-Isle Tech. “I definitely hope the math delay happens.”
Gregoire’s opinion is that the high number of non-passing grades calls attention to a methodology that’s simply not working, one that ought to be scrutinized and completely revamped.
“We need to ask ‘Why aren’t these kids passing?’ instead of penalizing them for a system that’s not working,” said Gregoire’s communication director, Christine Armstrong.
Gregoire has identified part of the problem as a lack of qualified certified math teachers and a myriad of math curriculum flooding the public schools.
“Gregoire wants to narrow the math down and streamline it to two or three curriculum rather than the dozens schools currently have,” Armstong said. “This way, teaching is consistent statewide and students won’t be overwhelmed if they transfer to a different school or district.”
Pam Burley of Lake Stevens, an active member of Mothers Against the WASL, feels the delay is a “step in the right the direction, but definitely not the solution.”
“There has never been an independent study of any portion of the WASL,” Burley explained. “All the studies and recommendations have been done by the people that were involved in creating the WASL, therefore [the test] is very biased and I don’t think any part of the WASL truly tests a child’s knowledge. It’s not knowledge based it’s thought-processed based.”
“Our children are not learning the math they need in school now. Once they get to college they need remedial math in order to succeed. [In college] they are being told to do away with the WASLized way of doing things so they can learn the correct way.”
The three-year delay would provide time for the system to catch up, Armstong explained, while teachers would be provided with remedial math training.
“In 1980, when I earned my PhD…I discovered that many maybe even most elementary teachers took the minimum amount of math required to earn a college diploma and get certified. Sadly, this is still often true today,” Bergeson said in her 2006 State of Education Address.
“Solving the mathematics education problem is not rocket science,” she continued. “It’s harder than rocket science.”
For students, the three-year delay would mean they could graduate on time provided they continue taking high-school math classes or passed the WASL.
“We don’t want to give the impression we’re backing off on math. We’re not,” Bergeson said.
The three-year delay for the math requirement is not enough for some, including Sen. Craig Pridemore who co-sponsored Sentate Bill 6037 earlier this month that would empower local school districts to determine whether or not students have met the state’s graduation standards. Under the bill, local di stricts would be under periodic review by the state board of education.
Despite some efforts to postpone or kill the WASL altogether, Gregoire is not interested in shelving the test or seeing the reading and writing portions delayed.
“The system has not failed our children when it comes to reading and to writing,” she said.
House Speaker Frank Chopp is in agreement with Gregoire and Bergeson, finding the curriculum as the biggest culprit in the large number of math failures.
“We have to change the way we teach math in Washington,” he said. “We need to standardize the math curriculum with the emphasis on teaching real-world skills, and then we have to make the WASL match the curriculum.”
Burley’s belief is that math curriculum must return to the basics where a solid foundation is built and added upon incrementally.
“It used to be that you learned how to add and you learned how to subtract they go hand in hand,” she explained. “Then you learned how to multiply and to divide, then fractions and decimals, building different layers of knowledge that could be taken to the next level. Now, with integrated math curriculums students are given a little bit of this and little bit of that a bit of algebra, a dash of geometry, etc., and are not given a solid foundation in any one area. It’s fuzzy math. And, that’s no way to learn.”
Burley’s hope is that the WASL is completely thrown out, but for now is cautiously satisfied the test may be delayed.
“To hold the class of 2008 accountable for lousy curriculum is wrong,” she said “It’s not saying the teaching’s not good and it’s not saying we don’t want our students to succeed but it’s saying the curriculum teachers are being forced to use for the WASL is at fault. The WASL needs to be done away with. We need to get back to sound, proven testing standards, like the SAT, that have been proven over the years.”