Decatur Superintendent: Math needs greater emphasis

·4 min read

Sep. 26—More than half of Alabama's students in second through eighth grades scored less than proficient in English Language Arts on the new standardized test given in the spring, but they did even worse in math.

One local educator believes that math remediation is getting fewer resources than reading initiatives.

"We've gotten so far concerned with students reading on grade level," Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas said. "I don't think math is getting the attention that it deserves."

The Legislature passed the Alabama Literacy Act in 2019 in an effort to improve reading scores of public school students in kindergarten through the third grade with the goal of ensuring they are able to read at or above grade level before leaving third grade. Along with the act, the state implemented the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program, a test that students took for the first time this spring.

Beginning with this school year, the Literacy Act requires that third grade students demonstrate sufficient reading skills before being promoted to fourth grade.

To help students improve their literacy scores, the State Department of Education instituted reading camps over the summer with both state and federal money, but did not do the same with math camps.

"There weren't as many math camps over the summer as there were reading camps, mainly because of the shortage of math teachers across the state," said State Department of Education spokesperson Michael Sibley.

In conjunction with the Literacy Act, the department holds that literacy is the cornerstone of learning and that kids must master that in order to succeed at other subjects.

Hartselle City Superintendent Dee Dee Jones agrees with the department and says that reading is critical to understanding other subjects, including mathematics.

"Reading is a large component when learning math because of understanding word problems," Jones said. "There are key words that students learn that lets them know the order of operations. If they know those words, they know what operation to use."

Jones said her schools actually did well on the math portion of the ACAP and gives credit to study sessions at Hartselle High School.

"This month, we started our early morning study sessions at the high school so students can get help in math and all subjects," Jones said. "We're already seeing students take advantage of that because a lot of students are showing up."

She said their principals have held data meetings and discussions about the subjects that students seem to be struggling with the most.

Math on lawmakers' radar

A local legislator said lawmakers are aware of state students' struggles in mathematics.

"I believe that math is definitely our next focus point," said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. "I think if we will concentrate and fund good professional development for math teachers and strengthen what we're doing in our college prep programs, as well as funding math coaches like we do reading coaches, that's how we're going to begin to fix the problem."

Collins said she hopes that Alabama will keep the ACAP test for a long time.

"I think changing our testing has really hurt some students," said Collins. "More consistency with testing and curriculum is always going to be the best."

Lee Vartanian, dean of the college of education at Athens State University, said state legislation funding math coaches and math camps would be a logical next step.

"I do think math is the next subject area that the state needs to focus on," Vartanian said. "Just as we've done with literacy, where we've focused on the science of reading, we can do the same with math."

Douglas said he is working with the Decatur Math Initiative to prepare students to improve their math scores next spring.

"I would love to see if (the state) could fund math coaches statewide like they do these reading camps," Douglas said.

Like Collins, Douglas said he thinks students are having trouble adapting to new testing and curriculum, such as the new standardized test.

"The biggest thing that I see, we need to pick a test and stick with it," said Douglas. "We need to determine what the standards are because when you are continually changing the standards, then you're continually changing textbooks and you're continually changing what is being tested. We have to be consistent and quit changing what we're doing."

Douglas said Decatur students scored much higher in math on Scantron tests, but saw a dramatic drop in scores with ACAP.

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