State school board member questions passion for math instruction

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State school board member questions passion for math instruction
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state Board of Education say West Virginia students need to do better in math.

Board members and state School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine got into a discussion about math achievement levels during the board’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday in Charleston. The meeting came a day after the latest release of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the nation’s education report card, which comes out every two years.

The scores show 35 percent of West Virginia fourth graders were proficient in math, which is slightly higher (2 percent higher) than 2015 but below the national average of 40 percent. Only 33 percent of eighth graders are considered proficient in the subject.

School board member Debra Sullivan said the path of math achievement has to begin in elementary school where teachers lay the foundation for their students. Sullivan said there needs to be an attitude change among some of those teachers.

“They lack the passion and so children are being turned off to math and they’re believing they can’t do math from a very young age,” she said.

Board President Tom Campbell said there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to math compared to a subject like reading.

State School Superintendent Steve Paine said it’s a content problem.

 “I don’t believe teachers are receiving enough math content at the elementary training levels, at the middle school (training levels) and at the high school (training levels),” Paine said “It’s time that we have to change something fundamentally if we’re ever going to see a change.”

According to Paine a number of changes could be made including changes in state board policy or requiring another math class in some grades.

“Maybe it’s employing distant learning strategies,” he said.

Paine said he’s placed math achievement as an item to be looked at during legislative interim committee meetings during the next several months.

Paine cautioned school board members to use the NAEP for what it is intended for not as a comparison between states.

“It’s the audit of internal measures,” he said. “It’s not intended to rank. That’s a total misuse of the information.”

Paine said, by the way, the state isn’t 50th in the rankings but 37th.

“We work really hard. In fact, we outperform our rank and we’re never given credit for that and probably never will be,” he said.

Paine said the goal shouldn’t be to move up in the state-by-state rankings but the goal should be to improve proficiency.

“If we set a goal and we want 50 percent of our kids to be proficient that would be a much, much better goal,” he said.

Not all West Virginia fourth graders and eighth graders took the NAEP test, only about 2,300, which are chosen by a contractor, state Department of Education officials told school board members Wednesday.

During an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” Wednesday, Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and executive editor of Education Next, said scores nationwide are less than impressive.

“We have a lost decade of educational process in this country,” Petrilli said.

He said the scores could be the result of the Great Recession from a few years ago and the impact that had on families and education funding.

“Another thing is that we have been retreating from education reform in recent years,” Petrilli said.

Petrilli said the test results are important.

“We know from good research, that there is in general a pretty strong connection between how kids do on these tests, reading and math and writing, and how far they are going to be able to go in their education,” he said.