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Saturday, October 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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WASL math scores prompt call for action

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Educators, parents and state lawmakers told members of the State Board of Education on Friday that math education is in crisis, and that short-term, emergency measures must be adopted as well as an overhaul of the state's math curriculum and instruction.

With 49 percent of 10th-graders and 75 percent of minority students failing the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning last spring, state leaders are scrambling for ways to help high-school students meet the math standards that become a graduation requirement, along with reading and writing, in 2008.

The State Board of Education organized Friday's meeting in Renton to get input on a math action plan for the 2007 legislative session. It may also recommend changes to the graduation requirements. The state PTA and an organization of state school-board members have called for a delay in implementing the WASL math requirement.

State business leaders and the governor have urged that the standards be maintained and even made more rigorous so that students are better prepared for college and the increasingly competitive global job market.

Many of those speaking Friday said struggling students must be helped before they reach high school and that parents must be part of the solution.

"Parents can't support something they don't understand," said Ruth Parker, CEO of the Math Education Collaborative, which advocates community involvement in raising math achievement.

A bipartisan group of Eastside legislators presented its own math initiative with short- and long-term strategies. They noted that almost one-fifth of high-school students demonstrated an elementary-level understanding of math on the spring WASL and that these students are unlikely to make up enough ground in the next two years to graduate.

They recommended a two-year transitional period during which students who take and pass an additional year or two of high-school math could earn a diploma.

"At this late stage, remediation is almost useless, but we must do something. If we don't, these students become throwaways, and that's unconscionable," said Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, who with Ross Hunter, D-Medina, presented the bipartisan plan.

Jarrett said abandoning the math requirement removes the urgency to strengthen instruction and address system failures. Without a deadline, he said, the state is unlikely to make progress.

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The legislators' short-term recommendations include intensive remediation, math learning plans to raise students' skills, and better use of diagnostic tools to identify where students are lagging.

Long-term plans include preparing middle-school students for ninth-grade algebra, adding a third year of math to state graduation requirements, initiating an intensive teacher training plan and finding ways to attract more qualified math teachers.

Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland said the state must identify a small number of effective curriculum options that match the state standards and support districts and teachers with training and math coaches.

Without a transition plan, he said, the present graduation requirements will act as a gatekeeper, denying future opportunities to many students "through no fault of their own."

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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