Getting math right for the students and teachers of Georgia has been a priority of mine since day one. One of my first actions as your state school superintendent was working with the State Board of Education to provide a needed choice between integrated mathematics and traditional discrete mathematics (with assessments to match each option) for our schools.
Prior to this action, schools that chose to offer the traditional discrete mathematics option were penalized by having only one assessment option — integrated mathematics.
I regularly hear from parents unable to help their children with math homework and math teachers who struggle to master instruction because of a lack of textbook options and unclear expectations for state tests.
While it is important for kids to think critically and use different methods for problem-solving, it also is essential that students have a firm understanding of the fundamentals of mathematics. Basic algorithms, fact fluency and standard processes for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division also contribute to building a strong foundation for student achievement.
Teaching using “funny math methods” — for example, the lattice method — is not state-mandated and not a requirement for students to achieve on any state tests. State assessments ask that students arrive at the correct answer and, in some cases, explain how they got there, but a specific process for obtaining the answer is not required.
I know that in the pursuit of increasing rigor, mathematics has become overly complicated. In some classrooms, solving simple multiplication or addition problems has become what may seem like a college-level calculus problem.
Because of a lack of textbook options and rushed implementation, many local school systems and mathematics teachers turned to Internet resources and/or vendor products labeled “Common Core.” As a former educator, I deeply believe in ensuring teachers have the autonomy and ability to teach using methods they feel are best for their students.
I ask that local systems, instead of turning outward to unvetted resources, turn inward toward collaboration among the talented experts within their own departments.
Georgia is a local-control state in regard to public education. Let me make the following statements very clear:
• What many have labeled as “Common Core” methods for teaching mathematics are not methods mandated by the Georgia Department of Education.
• Georgia’s standards direct school districts, schools and teachers to use basic arithmetic algorithms, fact fluency and standard processes for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
• The Georgia Department of Education provides resources (which may be used at district discretion) supporting the use and instruction of basic arithmetic algorithms.
Offering choices and clarification are some of the steps we are taking to address the concerns surrounding mathematics in our state. We will continue to monitor this issue closely to ensure our students have the best education possible.
Woods, a 22-year public-school educator and former small-business owner, is Georgia’s state school superintendent.