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Originally published November 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 27, 2006 at 12:17 PM

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Letters to the editor

A sampling of readers' letters, faxes and e-mail.

More math

Take away WASL and work out a real solution

Editor, The Times:

Thank you for "Too little math in math?" [Times, Local News, Nov. 15], featuring the math and science education crisis in Washington state. However, state Superintendent of Schools Terry Bergeson is wrong in focusing on the fact that not enough students are able to pass the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

The real issue is that the math "curriculum" the current Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is promoting is inferior and ineffective in teaching our children a comprehensive and internationally acceptable math curriculum. Furthermore, the OSPI had never been able to verify that the WASL is a valid and reliable test for measuring mathematical ability.

Why did the OSPI approve and go forward with using the WASL when it has never been determined to be a reliable and valid measure of math ability?!

There are other nationally accepted and time-proven tests (e.g., the SAT and ITBS) that could have been used. The OSPI wasted our tax dollars and experimented with our children's minds and education by making them take the WASL and providing a substandard math curriculum.

Shame on you, Terry Bergeson!!! It is the OSPI that has failed our children, not the students who have failed the invalid WASL!

— Lyng Wong, Bothell

Possibilities are infinite

"Too little math in math?" stated that multiple people believed the reason so many youths failed the WASL is due to a lack of teaching rote methods. As a current student myself, I find this thought appalling.

I can tell you from experience that this test means little. The test itself is subjective, and the way it is designed leaves various interpretations to all who look at it. Trust me when I say it's not the students, but the test causing the problem.

To think the problem stems from lack of rote learning is also absurd. Many students I have talked with find it harder to learn because the teacher won't let them do the problem in their own way. Because we all learn in a different way, it's often easier to do math a little differently.

As long as the answer is correct, where is the harm in doing the problem in a different way?

— Alezandra Troiani, Sultan

Can we look in the book?

I'm pretty good at math. I had good teachers at Lakeside, and probably good genetics as well. I scored an 800 in my College Board math test, and eventually wound up with a degree in electrical engineering. Now I have kids and also have fooled around some tutoring kids in math.

I am horrified at the way they teach math these days. Kids don't get a book anymore. Nothing to explain the details, just the little they absorbed from lecture. They are given a bunch of problems out of a workbook, and when they don't get it, they're absolutely stuck.

This is the "new math," and it absolutely is a failed experiment. I don't think any amount of "holding schools accountable for math scores" is going to make up for the ridiculous curriculum they're teaching now.

Why don't they try going back to the way they used to teach math? Spend a couple of bucks and buy some real math books. Spend some more and hire some retired engineers to teach math, some people who really understand it, use it, love it, and know how to teach it?

— Grant Erwin, Kirkland

Find the invariable

As a parent, I relate to Andrea Otanez' plea to end the Math Wars ["The year of math in Seattle schools," guest column, Nov. 8].

However, as a mathematician, I agree with award-winning inner-city elementary school teacher Rafe Esquith: "There are no shortcuts." Our current math standards are full of kitchen-sink requirements and bureaucratic doubletalk.

Almost half our children are failing the 10th-grade math WASL, which is not even up to eighth-grade international standards! We need clear standards to help our children compete in the global economy.

Fortunately, the new September 2006 Focal Points from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are a ray of hope. They have clear language and exactly three requirements per grade.

When Otanez' 9-year-old wasn't quick with 11 minus 9, she was failing the second-grade requirement: "Developing quick recall of addition facts and related subtraction facts." Typical 9-year-olds in fourth grade should be focusing on "Developing quick recall of multiplication facts and related division facts and fluency with whole number multiplication."

Get involved! Evaluate your children's math knowledge. Focus their instruction on these Focal Points. Force the state Legislature to adopt these standards and get on to the hard work of upgrading our math textbooks and teaching materials.

— Jock Mackinlay, Bellevue

World's best number

Something that would greatly simplify the teaching and learning of math and science: Switch to the metric system!

Forget learning to handle feet and miles, ounces and pounds, ounces and gallons and trying to remember whether to multiply or divide by 16, 4 or 5,280 or whatever. In the simple and logical metric system, the only arithmetic is multiplying or dividing by 10. Many teacher hours and student headaches would be saved.

I recognize this won't help the class of 2010, but we would be ahead in countless respects if we would catch up with the rest of the world.

— Larry Holdren, Bellevue

This problem goes over her head

While shopping for an anniversary gift at Macy's recently, I came upon a very agitated young lady who was visibly upset and frustrated at the saleswoman [because] she did not receive the appropriate discount on a blouse. Apparently, the sale price was discounted 50 percent and also an additional 40 percent off that discounted price.

Being a math traditionalist and having nothing else to do, I mentally figured out that the final sale price of the $42 blouse should be roughly $12. And indeed, the saleswoman patiently demonstrated to the customer that 50 percent of $42 is $21, and 40 percent off $21 is $12.60.

The customer would not accept this and continued to argue that she did not receive the full discount.

This episode, again, reinforces my opinion that the traditional solid math foundation is necessary, not only for more complex math situations, but for simple sale purchases.

Of course, I refrained from telling the customer that if she used her Macy's card, she would get an additional 15 percent off.

— Alain Lambert, Federal Way

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