Calif. Officials Give Tentative Approval To Math Standards With Basics Bent

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The California school board's vote on math benchmarks last week has only stoked the ongoing firestorm there over setting academic standards.

By 10-0, with one abstention, the board gave its approval in concept to what students in grades K-7 should know and be able to do in mathematics. It emphasized the need for basic-skills instruction and the importance of precise answers, instead of estimated ones, especially in the lower grades.

The board rejected the version of standards that had been crafted with public input by a state standards commission. Instead, it accepted a version edited by two state board members. That document calls for 3rd graders to memorize multiplication tables and 4th graders to master long division.

At the meeting, standards-commission members expressed their anger in remarks to the board. But Bill Lucia, the board's executive director, said the standards commission, despite a two-year time line for its work, had issued a rushed document with acknowledged mathematical errors.

A final vote on the K-7 standards, as well as a decision on standards for grades 8-12, is expected this week. Board and commission members agreed to spend the intervening time discussing possible compromises between the back-to-basics approach of the board and the commission's emphasis on conceptual understanding. ("Math Showdown Looms Over Standards in Calif.," Nov. 5, 1997.)

Calculators, Contract Out

In separate action at the same Dec. 1 meeting, the state board voted to prohibit the use of calculators on the math portions of California's new statewide basic-skills assessment.

Delaine Eastin, the state schools superintendent, who is often at odds with the board, expressed her disapproval of the new standards. In a letter to the board before the vote, Ms. Eastin said: "Dumbing down the content not only is a disservice to the students of our public schools, but also is a movement away from the intent of the legislation which called for the development of the standards."

At a separate meeting of its own last week, the standards commission reversed an earlier decision to hire a group of science educators to help write state science-content standards. The panel rejected all bids and voted unanimously to reopen the search for proposals.

The commission found it had erred in the way it had evaluated the earlier proposals, a spokesman said.

Associated Scientists of California State University-Northridge had filed a formal complaint after the commission turned down its no-cost bid from prominent scientists in favor of a $178,000 one from science educators and other scientists based at California State University-San Bernardino. ("Scientists Protest Exclusion From Standards Writing," Nov. 26, 1997.)

The commission started over because it decided "to call a screw-up a screw-up and move on,'' said Scott Hill, its executive director.

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