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BILL CRAWFORD: Academic standards ‘public’ input a joke



When all is said and done and the board votes in December, we will finally have a set of Mississippi-centric college- and career-ready standards that every person in the state has had an opportunity to comment on,” touted state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright.

Not exactly.

The input tool provided by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) works for education experts, but not the general public (www.mississippi.statestandards.com/).

Consider the 5th grade math standard, “Generate two numerical patterns using two given rules. Identify apparent relationships between corresponding terms. Form ordered pairs consisting of corresponding terms from the two patterns, and graph the ordered pairs on a coordinate plane.” It is a subset of “Analyze patterns and relationships,” which is a subset up “Operations and Algebraic Thinking,” which is one of five topical categories for 5th grade math standards.

Reviewers can show they agree with the standard, or want to make changes by breaking up or rewriting the standard, or recommending it be moved to another grade level.  For any change, reviewers are asked to provide research or rational for their recommendations.

Okay, I have a math degree from Millsaps College, a Masters Degree in education from Mississippi State University, and experience teaching developmental algebra at Meridian Community College. While this background lets me understand the standard, I have no extant capacity to approve it or recommend changes. The standards fit together like a puzzle. Only by researching the whole puzzle could I learn how this one fits into the intended pedagogy and what the consequences of any change(s) might be.

I may question the level of math thinking now required at the 5th grade level, but there is no place to register that concern.

I may question the added emphasis placed on “understanding” math concepts versus “doing” math proficiently, but, again, there is no place to register that concern.

I chose to discuss a math standard since the impact of math standards on teaching methods has raised the most ire among parents. Those parents concerned about students having to use obtuse methods to solve math problems, rather than simply coming up with right answers, have no way to express their concerns.

The input process for English and Language Arts standards is the same as for math. You have to drill down to each specific standard by grade level before any input can be entered.

That the general public can provide meaningful input to MDE using this system, truly, is a joke.

But the standards, themselves, are no joking matter. Serious review is appropriate.

Those writing them should take heed of Nicolaus Copernicus who said, “Mathematics is written for mathematicians.” Few of us need to be mathematicians, but all need math skills and the tools to solve problems.

For those touting the Massachusetts math standards, the differences with Mississippi’s are minor in the early grades. Most appear as additions, not replacements or changes. Massachusetts standards can be found at www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/math/0311.pdf.


» Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.


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