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Math standards criticized by lawmakers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Math, a sore subject for many kids, is dividing adults, too.

New standards approved by the state school board are being criticized by lawmakers who believe they aren't rigorous enough.

"It seems like the math wars are alive and well," said Aaron Bertram, chairman of the University of Utah math department.

Controversy over math standards began several years ago when the Alpine district began teaching "Investigations" math, which focuses on conceptual math over drills and memorization.

Some parents complained their children weren't learning the basics. Proponents, however, say it prepares students for higher-level math and gives them an understanding of the concepts behind the formulas.

A parent, Oak Norton, said his daughter hadn't learned multiplication tables by the end of third grade.

"I said to the teacher, 'It's almost the end of the year. ... When are you going to start doing this?'" Norton said. "She said, 'Oh, we don't do that anymore.'"

After complaints, the state Education Office said schools could no longer use Investigations as a primary text.

The state school board also agreed to revise the math core curriculum earlier than scheduled in response to pressure from legislators. Those revisions came under fire from lawmakers at a meeting last week.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, sent an e-mail to the state board saying they would try to put math standards into law if the board passed what was proposed.

They based their views in part on an opinion from Stanford University math professor James Milgram, who said the standards were riddled with errors.

"They are among the worst proposed state standards I have ever seen in grades K-7!" Milgram wrote in a July 31 e-mail to Stephenson and others.

Members of the committee that wrote the new standards have denied the errors. State Superintendent Patti Harrington also defended them.

"The core standards are good and solid," she said.

Not all lawmakers are critical.

"It seems to me you're pretty much demeaning the math educators of this state as if they don't understand the big concepts," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "In some people's opinions, California does not have the best standards."

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On the Net:

Utah elementary math standards: www.usoe.k12.ut.us/curr/math/elem/default.htm

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com


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