- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

State education standards for English and mathematics instruction in public schools nationwide are improving, but remain woefully inadequate to meet requirements for student learning achievement, according to two national reports issued yesterday.

The reports, issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, gave D or F grades to eight states for inadequate English instruction standards and 29 states for inadequate math standards in public schools.

Just California, Indiana and Massachusetts received A grades for superior state public school standards in both English and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. Alabama and Louisiana received A grades for superior state English standards alone.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s national school-improvement initiative, has prompted more than 40 states to replace or substantially revise their English and math standards, said Chester E. Finn Jr., Fordham Foundation president, in a telephone press conference with reporters yesterday.

“NCLB also raised the stakes attached to those standards,” Mr. Finn wrote in a foreword to “The State of State Math Standards 2005.”

“States, districts and schools are now judged by how well they are educating their students and whether they are raising academic achievement for all students. The goal now is 100 percent proficiency.”

State English standards “do a better job” of addressing reading, writing and comprehension skills and processes than literature and cultural content, said Sandra Stotsky, author of “The State of State English Standards 2005.”

Thirty-four states have improved their academic standards since a previous Fordham Foundation study in 2000, but 15 states have declined, she said. “The average grade is C-plus.” Virginia received a B, while both Maryland and the District were given Cs.

“Most state standards fail to outline the substantive content of the literature curriculum in an intellectually coherent way,” Mrs. Stotsky, former associate commissioner of education in Massachusetts, wrote in the report.

“The study of American literature is not required in about half the states. Few offer illustrative titles, authors, literary periods, and literary traditions as indices of reading growth and literary quality, or examples of milestones in the history of the English language. Few offer descriptions of classroom activities using specific literary works.”

David Klein, mathematics professor at California State University and author of the math report, told reporters “the biggest failure” of most state standards is they “do not require enough arithmetic” in early grades as a prerequisite for algebra, geometry and calculus.

Also, “one of the most debilitating trends in current state math standards is their excessive emphasis on calculators,” even starting at pre-kindergarten, he wrote in the report.

Using calculators in a high school science class is sensible, Mr. Klein said. “But for elementary students, the main goal of math education is to get them to think about numbers and to learn arithmetic. Calculators defeat that purpose.”

He pointed to Hawaii math standards as “the worst,” in the view of his eight-member review team, because they state: “Learning higher-level mathematics concepts and processes are not dependent upon ‘prerequisite’ knowledge and skills. …”

“That’s nonsense. That really bowled us over,” Mr. Klein said at the press conference. “Math is very hierarchical. Any credible set of expectations has to respect that hierarchy.”

Learning higher-level math skills and concepts depend on first “memorizing the basic number facts” and mastering standard arithmetic algorithms in elementary school. “It is a foundational skill,” he wrote in the report.

Virginia and Maryland received Cs for their math standards. The District received a D.

The reports emphasize the need to greatly improve high school standards and suggest that states with poor ratings for their standards emulate the states that were rated best. “Why not pick up the standards of an ‘A’ state? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” Mr. Finn said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide