New York State's math program has been in a state of some turmoil for the past year or so, but changes proposed last week by a state panel show every sign of starting to put things right. A 24-member committee presented recommendations that would affect both content and practical application of math education, and would put New York more in line with the rest of the country.
The committee's work follows the debacle of June 2003 when some school districts, including Buffalo, saw as many as 90 percent of their students fail the math Regents exam. At that time, the state revised the scoring chart, allowing thousands of students a passing grade. Changes in the exam format took effect last January. But deeper questions about the math curriculum remained, and a statewide committee was charged with getting the answers.
Made up of teachers and other math experts, the panel met for months to develop revised math standards for the state. A draft of the panel's recommendations will be the subject of public comment for one month. The Board of Regents will consider the recommendations, including possible revisions resulting from the public discussion, in January.
The committee worked hard to address one issue in particular: The state's performance indicators and standards were not clear to teachers. As the panel said in its report, revised standards must be challenging, and "must consist of a clear, well-defined set of skills, the mastery of which is demonstrable." The bulk of the work consisted of creating 850 specific, grade-by-grade performance indicators in kindergarten through 11th grade that would be used to guide curriculum.
Among the panel's most notable recommendations is reverting to a single-year format for what has come to be known as the Math A course, which has (for many students) stretched out over a two-year period. The committee recommended turning Math B into a two-year course, with an exam given after each year.
Math A would be called "Integrated Algebra" and the first year of Math B would be known as "Integrated Geometry." The second year would be called "Integrated Algebra II and Trigonometry." Finally, everyone -- from students to college admissions officers -- would have a better understanding of the course content.
The committee also included a number of practical recommendations, such as increased use of calculators. The panel's recommendations appear to move the state's schoolchildren toward a more solid, and less confusing, education in an important discipline.
"The debacle of 2003 was a long needed wake-up call for New York State to rethink what it does," said Alfred Posamentier, dean of the school of education and professor of mathematics education at City College of New York and a member of the 24-member committee.
The public comment period may point out the need for revisions in the panel's recommendations. Nevertheless, the committee's work should go a long way toward improving a flawed curriculum.