Other states have found good ways to teach math; it's time to copy themWashington, home to Microsoft and Boeing's main facilities, ought to also be home to top-rate math and science education but there are disturbing signs that far too many students aren't learning vital job skills.
Measurement tools like the Washington Assessment of Student Learning can be faulted for causing educators to focus too much on test-taking skills. The fact remains, however, that WASL is the tool we have and so we need to take it seriously.
Ilwaco High School's Class of 2008, which has to pass WASL in order to graduate, is in real trouble when it comes to math. Half the class failed to get at least the 65 percent correct required to pass the math portion of WASL.
IHS is not terribly behind other schools in this regard. At Naselle High School, 52 percent of sophomores passed the math test. Statewide, 54 percent passed.
(It is better news that 86 percent of IHS sophomores passed the reading test and that 78 percent passed the writing test - comparing to 86 and 84 percent statewide. In Naselle, 87 percent met the reading standard and 83 percent passed the writing test.)
Students must pass all three tests in order to graduate. They can repeat tests several times, and will be given other ways to prove themselves, but it's scary to consider that last year only 42 percent of Washington sophomores passed all three parts. Clearly, something needs to be done to make certain many more students obtain all the knowledge and skills they need to graduate.
Some complain the math test is too hard. According to the Seattle Times, some studies indicate the WASL is among the toughest state tests in the nation. A recent study of the 10th-grade math exam, however, found WASL had less algebra and geometry than exams in six other states.
In fact, in a recent newspaper column, Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell blasted state math standards as "dismal," a circumstance that has led professors at the University of Washington to "dumb down" their classes. As a whole, the U.S. ranks eighth or ninth out of 11 major industrial nations in the math attainments of students, according to Brunell.
"Sixty percent of future jobs will require training that only 20 percent of the workforce possesses. Thus the concern about the future workforce is not about a labor shortage, but rather a skills shortage," according to Boeing's Tick Stephens. "This skills gap could profoundly affect our nation's competitiveness in the world economy."
Brunell makes some valid points, perhaps most notably that instead of tinkering with a math curriculum that clearly is failing Washington's kids, we should look to demonstrably successful standards already in place in California, Massachusetts and other states. It may also be the case that the state needs to provide additional resources to places like Ocean Beach School District and Naselle-Grays River Valley School District.
The bottom line: An intelligently designed math curriculum and tough, straightforward standards are what Washington's students need and deserve.