By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday gave final passage to legislation aimed at improving the state’s lagging math scores, especially in elementary schools.
Senate Bill 171, dubbed the Numeracy Act, by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would target more resources to struggling schools, deploy math coaches to help teachers and hold schools accountable for continued failure to improve.
The bill on Tuesday passed the House and was sent to the Senate, which concurred with House changes and sent the bill to the governor’s desk.
It’s an attempt to improve the quality of Alabama’s math education in lower grades, which ranked last on the more recent national report card.
“Only 22% (of Alabama students) are proficient in math,” Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, told House members on Tuesday. “We have 28 K-5 schools that are 0% proficient.”
The bill would make substantial changes to many aspects of the state’s math instruction. These changes would cost an estimated $114 million per year when fully implemented.
The Numeracy Act would create a new office, the Office of Mathematics Improvement, that would exist inside the State Department of Education. This office would oversee Alabama’s math curriculum and testing to ensure that by the time children reach the 5th grade, they are at or above grade-level proficiency in math.
Baker, who is carrying the bill in the House, said the bill itself doesn’t actually change current teaching standards or create new ones. The power to do so would remain that of the Alabama State Department of Education.
Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, said he supports the bill, but worries that the Legislature is constantly funding educational improvements but seeing no results.
One of the major costs of the bill would be that of providing math coaches in K-5 schools to coach current math teachers in modern math education practices.
Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland, expressed many issues with the bill, especially with the addition of these math coaches.
“We’re going to take our best math teachers out of the classroom and let them coach math teachers,” Fincher said. “Are we even going to replace the math coaches we take out?”
The bill would also better equip future math teachers by requiring universities to establish standard guidelines for training those studying math education.
Although the standards may seem tough for local schools to uphold, the bill provides for state support and intervention when schools fail to improve their math scores. Unlike the 2019 Literacy Act, however, the Numeracy Act does not include the requirement that students who don’t show grade-level proficiency on math exams be held back.
Fincher said that it’s too early to put something like this into place when it hasn’t even been determined whether or not the Literacy Act actually improved test scores yet.
Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said that he wished the bill would’ve come sooner.
“This is not the magic bullet, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. He also said he hopes that in the future, the Legislature will address “cradle to Pre-K” education as well.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said. She brought an amendment to the bill that ensures that a child’s parents are involved in the educational plan as soon as a learning deficit is determined.
The bill passed the House 76-24 and was sent back to the Senate, which concurred giving the bill final passage. It now goes to the governor’s desk. If signed into law, the process of putting these new standards into place would begin immediately.