Va. Math Standards' Bar Might Be Raised

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2008

Kindergartners would be expected to be able to count to 100, not just to 30. Perimeter and area would be introduced and explored in third grade, instead of in second grade.

Those are among many proposed revisions to Virginia's math standards that are part of a national movement to strengthen and streamline math education to prepare all students to learn algebra and higher concepts.

The standards prescribe in detail concepts students are expected to learn in each grade, and the state verifies whether those expectations are met each year through the Standards of Learning tests. Now the standards are being revised for the second time since their introduction in 1995.

Hearings will be held in Virginia next month, including one at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at Robinson Secondary School, 5035 Sideburn Rd., Fairfax. A draft is on the state Department of Education Web site at Final revisions are expected to be adopted by the end of next year.

Some teachers have criticized current standards for repeating concepts over multiple grades and have said that a more focused approach could reduce the need for review as years go by. The state Board of Education is trying to respond to those criticisms with the proposed revisions.

"I feel like we're getting a little more into the heart of the material," said Carolyn Williamson, a math teacher at Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville and president of the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which has encouraged its members to submit comments to the Education Department. "It makes sense that students should have some fluency and mastery with one set of topics before you move on to the next," she said.

The changes range from the small, such as making kindergartners learn one through 100, to the broad, trying to better prepare grade-school students for algebra.

Some teachers applaud the proposal. "I do think they're trying to streamline it, and I see a greater emphasis on problem-solving, which is a good thing," said Elizabeth Korte, head of the math department at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn. She said she also thought that the new standards would make it easier to teach topics in depth.

Korte said the standards were helpful in establishing a "baseline" and should be treated as a minimum for classes, not a limit. Inevitably, she said, they will have imperfections. An example: "Some of our college kids came back this year saying they wish they had spent more time on conic sections," Korte said. But that topic is eliminated from the new Algebra II standards.

"It's hard to fit it all in," she said.

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