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Orr files major math education bill, includes Common Core prohibition

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has filed a multi-component bill aimed at improving math education in public schools grades kindergarten through five.

Senate Bill 171 also requires the state to terminate “all plans, programs, activities, efforts, and expenditures relative to the implementation of the educational initiative commonly referred to as the Common Core State Standards.”

The bill:

  • Creates an Elementary Mathematics Task Force, a Postsecondary Mathematics Task Force and an Office of Mathematics Improvement within the State Department of Education;
  • Requires state intervention for low-performing schools;
  • Sets up an Alabama Summer Mathematics Achievement Program.

Orr said that he had been working with education professionals over the last year on legislation to improve math instruction in elementary schools.

“We were dead last in math in the last round of testing. Alabama was 52nd, even behind the District of Columbia and military schools,” Orr said Wednesday. “That’s unacceptable and we have to do something to change it.”

The goal is to get students math proficient by the time they leave fifth grade. Unlike the Literacy Act approved by lawmakers in 2019, there is no student retention component in the math bill as written. Orr co-sponsored the Literacy Act bill aimed at increasing young students’ reading abilities. Separately, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, filed Wednesday a bill delaying the holdback requirement in the Literacy Act from this spring to the 2022-2023 school year. It also makes other technical changes to the law.

Orr’s nearly 50-page Alabama Numeracy Act sets out a series of actions, including adding more staff focused on math, schools must take, and skills students are to master at each grade, K through five. There are also annual screening requirements and summer school options. 

“The bill will require significant commitment by the state and the education community, but as I see it, we have no other option,” Orr said in October. “We have to do better.”

Only 24% of Alabama’s public school fourth-graders were labeled as proficient or better on a  spring 2021 math assessment. For eighth-graders, it was even worse: just 14%.

Orr said his bill would require hiring more elementary math coaches and other components to improve math results, Orr said. 

In a written statement, the Alabama Education Association on Thursday said it is reviewing SB171.

“We agree with the premise of the proposed bill and Sen. Orr’s intent for bringing the legislation — improving Alabama students’ proficiency in mathematics,” the statement said. “(We) will continue to monitor the bill and work with Sen. Orr as the bill moves through the legislative process.”

Sen. Tim Melson, chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee where the bill has been referred, is a co-sponsor.

“Our students’ math skills simply aren’t where they need to be,” Melson said Thursday.

Information on the potential cost of the measures outlined in the bill was not immediately available. Because the requirements will be phased in over several years, Orr said the cost will be manageable.

“With over 75% of our students not proficient in math, we have a crisis in Alabama,” said Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership. “We need a comprehensive, statewide commitment to drastically improve student success in math. This means more teacher training and coaching support, high-quality instructional materials in every classroom, and interventions for struggling students.”

The bill also mandates that university education programs teach the same approved math curriculum to new teachers before they enter the classroom.

About education standards, Orr’s bill says the “Legislature further prohibits the adoption or implementation of any national standards or variations of national standards from any source that cede control of Alabama educational standards in any manner” and “the state shall retain sole control over the development, establishment, and revision of K-12 course of study standards.”

Common Core standards were implemented in Alabama in the late 2000s. However, the state school board voted to adopt a new course of study in 2019, leading Gov. Kay Ivey and others to declare that Common Core had been “eradicated.” Critics say the new standards still contain remnants of Common Core. The legislative fight to distance the state from them has lasted more than a decade.

ADN’s Todd Stacy contributed to this article. 

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