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Thursday, January 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bergeson OKs independent math review

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson has agreed to an independent review of state math standards that critics have called at least partly responsible for Washington students' poor math achievement.

The State Board of Education is expected to take up the issue at a meeting in Lacey today. The board will consider a proposal to hire a national consultant to review K-12 math standards, with the goal of making Washington students internationally competitive and better prepared for work and college.

"A lot of people were concerned that if I controlled the review, it wouldn't be objective. I understand that," Bergeson said.

The task is potentially controversial, pitting reform-math advocates who emphasize reasoning and problem-solving against back-to-basics proponents who want more emphasis on math facts and operations such as long division and fractions.

"We're looking for an objective, constructive review, and someone who will be careful not to turn it into political warfare," she said.

The failure of almost half of the state's 10th-graders — and 75 percent of minority students — to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning's (WASL) math test last spring raised cries for an overhaul of Washington's math instruction, from narrowing curriculum choices and improving teacher training to a review of the state standards on which instruction and the state test are based.

State leaders have pointed to other signs that math education in the state is falling short. Almost half of students who go on to college need remediation to prepare for college-level math. And the two years of math required for high-school graduation is less than that required in many other countries.

The state's math standards were developed almost a decade ago and should be revisited, said Mary Ann Stine, director of curriculum and instruction for the Everett School District.

Stine said standards now may have as many as 42 goals for one grade level. And she described their content as "all over the place."

Federal Way Chief Academic Officer Mark Jewell said the standards "shouldn't be watered down, because so many students aren't passing." Rather, he said, they should be brought in line with more successful nations.

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Mukilteo parent Hugh Taylor, a member of the state "Where's the Math?" group, called U.S. math instruction "uniquely unsuccessful." He said that since the state developed the original math standards, allowing the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to conduct the standards review "would be like the fox guarding the henhouse."

He said he welcomed an independent review, "as long as it's conducted by a mathematician."

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

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