Eleventh-hour Bill Proposes Changes to High School Math Standards

Just as the State Board of Education was set to approve revisions to the high school math standards, Sen. Jerry Tillman introduced a bill to switch the sequence of math instruction altogether.

What’s at stake is the difference between the ways in which high school math is taught. The current method is to use an Integrated Math format which replaced a longstanding format now called Traditional Sequence. Integrated math teaches algebra, geometry, and statistics in a blended curriculum which allows students to see connections between the different disciplines. Traditional sequence separates math learning into Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.

The State Board of Education went ahead and approved revisions to the integrated math sequence, almost at the same time as Tillman’s bill, H657, was being heard in the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education. The bill would replace the state board’s new standards starting in the 2017-18 school year after a new standards review commission examined the K-12 math standards.

The bill was voted out of committee last week and was on the Senate calendar for Monday, June 13, and as a compromise, school districts must offer traditional sequence but may also offer integrated math.

WakeEd has sent letters to each member of the Wake Delegation and the State Board Chairman Bill Cobey urging them to oppose the bill.

Based on Tillman’s remarks, he is responding to concerns that the traditional sequence of high school mathematics was better for teachers, students, and parents. However, the recent surveys of high school math teachers found widespread support for the integrated math format.

This survey information was used by the NC Academic Standards Review Commission when it developed the revisions to math standards that the State Board approved recently.

A drastic switch to math standards as mandated in H657 would be chaotic for teachers and students. It wasn’t long ago that the very students at the center of this debate went through such a switch in academic standards when North Carolina adopted Common Core. Doing so again would create a whiplash effect on students.

What’s more, the results of switching from traditional sequence to integrated math have been successful. For example, students are performing better on ACT tests. Their scores have increased by 22 percent since integrated math was implemented, and NC math students are now scoring above the ACT’s own college and career readiness benchmark – a similar metric the state uses to track student achievement on EOGs and EOCs.

Academic standards aren’t something that can be changed like paint color on the walls when one tires of it. Such changes typically take six to eight years show the measure of their effectiveness. The early data on integrated math is positive, but incomplete because it hasn’t been taught long enough.

If the General Assembly is serious about ensuring a world-class education for its public school students, it needs to get serious about academic standards. It seemed like the General Assembly was heading in this direction when it created the Academic Standards Review Commission that was tasked with revising the Common Core standards. The Commission’s recommendations were based on months of research and examination.

One-off bills, like H657, that target specific areas of instruction shouldn’t get out of committee. Except in cases when correcting an error, specific academic standards shouldn’t be dictated by legislation. Instead, the members of the General Assembly should trust the work of hundreds of educators that go into developing the standards, allow time for them to mature, and order fixes only to what isn’t working.

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