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STATE PANEL RECOMMENDS MAKING MATH ADD UP
PROPOSED CHANGES SPAN SCHOOL YEARS

Sweeping changes in the state's math program soon could shorten Math A to a one-year course and reinforce the use of calculators beginning in kindergarten.

Those were among the recommendations presented Thursday to the Board of Regents in Albany by a statewide committee intended to fix the problems that have plagued the math program.

While last year's Math A debacle ignited the state's desire to take a closer look at the math program, the committee also suggested improvements as early as elementary school.

Committee members indicated they were optimistic about the potential for change.

"What we would love is 3.1 million schoolchildren loving math," William Brosnan, co-chairman of the committee and superintendent of a school district on Long Island, told the Associated Press.

The Regents are asking for public comment on the recommendations and are expected to vote on the changes in January.

Changes would be made from kindergarten through high school, with particular emphasis on the later years, including reverting to a single-year format for Math A.

Most other Regents courses are a year long. But while a select group of advanced students complete Math A in a year, most students need 1 1/2 to two years -- sometimes longer -- to finish it.

Many teachers argued that expecting students to remember what they had learned two years before the exam time was unrealistic. Others questioned why the course was singled out to be longer than one year.

Math A drew the ire of students, parents and teachers in June 2003 when, in districts, that included Buffalo and some others in the area, as many as 90 percent of students failed the exam.

The state quickly revised the scoring chart, granting thousands more students a passing grade. Changes in the exam format took effect last January.

This year, some teachers questioned why, in light of the state's emphasis on integrating classroom concepts into everyday life, the Math B exam emphasized theory rather than practical applications.

Those issues, however, never attracted the attention that Math A did, in part because far fewer students take Math B.

Similar to Math A, Math B also takes students more than a year to complete. The state committee has urged the Regents to turn it into a two-year course, with an exam given after each year.

And, like Math A, the name of the Math B course also would change. Math A would be known as "Integrated Algebra." The first year of Math B would be known as "Integrated Geometry," while the second year would be called "Integrated Algebra II and Trigonometry."

The more descriptive labels would giver everyone -- from students to college admissions officers -- a better understanding of the courses, the committee said.

Recommendations also include limiting high school students to earning a maximum of two credits for Math A. That means a struggling student who took 2 1/2 years to complete the course would not get credit for the extra time.

Local school districts should design their own advanced math courses, as alternatives to Math B, the report said. Students who want an advanced Regents diploma will have to take Math B, but those looking for a standard Regents diploma would have to take a total of three years of math, including Math A.

By condensing Math A into one year, algebra instruction will have to begin earlier, they said. Some of that instruction will trickle down into middle school to ensure that students have a solid background by the time they reach high school.

The 24-member committee also came out in favor of asking the federal government for a one-year extension for beginning the mandatory annual testing in grades three through eight that will be required under the No Child Left Behind law.

They want to establish the changes in those grades in 2006-07. Because students receive grounding in Math A concepts during those years, the changes in Math A should wait until the following year.

Finally, the changes to Math B should be introduced in 2008-09.

The committee also covered the question of calculators.

Some teachers have said the Math A exam, for example, is inherently inequitable because students are allowed to use calculators on part of it. Not all students can afford to buy a calculator, so they have limited experience, since they use calculators only in school.

The committee said four-function calculators should be used in kindergarten through fourth grade, but not on state tests. Scientific calculators should be used in fifth through eighth grade, but their use should be limited on tests.

All high school students should use graphing calculators on a regular basis in class and be required to use them on Regents exams, the committee said. They also recommended that all high school students be given access to a graphing calculator.

The report also says helping children see math's beauty "is as important as helping children see the beauty of a da Vinci painting or a Beethoven symphony."

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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