by Kristine Lindeblad & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n middle and high school I studied German intently for five years. At the end of that time I could conjugate verbs, determine the case of nouns and write two forms of the past tense. However, the first time I traveled to Germany I arrived in Berlin with missing baggage for 14 students and one very sick 15-year-old, finding, to my astonishment, that I really could not speak the language. I could read it and I could write it in very controlled circumstances, but the business of communicating and managing day-to-day life required several more years of a different kind of study.
This situation parallels the way math education has been taught in the past in public schools. We've had to start thinking differently about what kind of mathematics our students need to study in order to function successfully and fluently in the 21st century. Mathematics is a language, one with its own grammar, vocabulary and applications in day-to-day life. Our students need to know the rules of the grammar of mathematics and they need to understand the concepts and applications that make those rules useful.
It seems that each day brings a new headline about the state of mathematics education in Washington. Despite allegations to the contrary, we have much to be proud of in our work. Washington ranks among the top five states in the country based on the performance of our fourth- and eighth-grade students on the 2006 National Assessment of Academic Progress (NAEP). The achievement gap that exists in so many places is closing in Washington, with eighth-grade African American students ranking third in the nation on NAEP math scores while fourth-grade African American students are ranked first in the nation on these assessments. In Spokane, the average SAT math score increased to 539 points last year, seven points higher than the state average and 21 points higher than the national average.
Advanced Placement scores have gone up while the number of students taking the exam also has increased. Last year, 84 percent of Spokane students taking the Calculus AB exam passed the test, 92 percent of the students taking the Calculus BC exam passed and 71 percent of the students taking AP Statistics received a score that could earn college credit.
The combined efforts of mathematics educators from high schools, two-year colleges and state four-year universities, along with other important stakeholders, created the College Readiness Standards, which were published in Washington one year ago. These benchmarks are designed to improve the mathematical preparation of students as they transition from high school to college and the world of work. They guide mathematics coursework work in 11th and 12th grades.
While it is true that only a small number of students (nationally less than 1 percent) will go on to become research mathematicians, many, many more of them will go on to be "resourceful" mathematicians, using high-level mathematics for careers in a demanding global economy. All students will need a broader base of rich mathematics, including statistics, to fully understand and use the vast amount of factual knowledge instantly available to them. To that end, all students must have access to rich, rigorous mathematics courses taught by teachers who have deep understanding about the way that students learn best, as well as thorough knowledge in mathematics.
Spokane Public Schools is committed to providing this kind of learning in math. The investment in and commitment to our students' futures is evident in the extensive provision of resources from kindergarten through 12th grade, the implementation of multiple supports for students with differing needs, ongoing professional development for teachers and the increased graduation requirement to three years of rigorous math for all students. The number of students enrolled in accelerated math courses in the middle school has increased significantly in the past year. Additionally, along with neighboring districts, Spokane Public Schools has entered into a partnership agreement with Washington State University, Eastern Washington University and the Community Colleges of Spokane to improve and extend mathematics education for all of our students. Part of this agreement is designed to provide extra opportunities for mathematically talented students through summer math camps and math team competitions.
Across the nation, there is an increased focus on, and much agreement about, the kind of mathematics necessary for the students whose careers will be in full bloom in 2025 -- careers that in many cases do not even exist today. Our schools must work to attract, retain and support students in mathematics classes. Students must learn the language of mathematics for the 21st century -- and that includes a solid background in the rules and procedures of the language and the conceptual experiences necessary to use it fluently.
Kristine Lindeblad is the secondary math coordinator for Spokane Public Schools. Lindeblad was the recipient of the Presidential Award in Mathematics and Education in 2001.