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Poll shows support for changes in math instruction

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives plans to vote Tuesday on Senate Bill 171, known as the Numeracy Act, to improve methods for math instruction in elementary schools.

The latest report for U.S. News ranked Alabama last in the nation in math education based on several factors, including high school graduation rates, college readiness tests, such as the ACT, and math scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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

Alabamians are recognizing the need for change in this area, as shown by a recent survey commissioned by Alabama Daily News and Gray Television. It asked Republican voters if they would support the Numeracy Act’s plan to modernize math education. About 56% of voters said they support this effort and 15.9% said they were opposed.

Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, is sponsoring the bill in the House and  said he was excited to see the poll numbers because it shows that Alabamians are realizing that “math is now more than just getting to an answer.”

“It’s the why’s and how’s of how you get to that answer,” he said.

The bill creates the Office of Mathematics Improvement within the State Department of Education, which would be responsible for overseeing curriculum and exams to make sure students are at or above grade-level proficiency by the time they complete the fifth grade. Both an Elementary and a Postsecondary Mathematics Task Force would be created as well.

The bill by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, focuses heavily on math teaching, eventually providing math coaches in every school and requiring universities to establish standard guidelines for training future teachers in math instruction. The bill also requires more math instruction and possible state intervention of schools that do not improve their math scores. Unlike the 2019 Literacy Act, there is no retention requirement for young students not performing on grade level. When fully implemented, the requirements in the bill will cost about $92 million per year.

“Alabama undoubtedly has a math crisis, with over three fourths of our students not able to do the basic math skills they need to be successful,” said Mark Dixon, president of the advocacy group  A+ Education Partnership. “It is past time for a statewide comprehensive plan to fix this problem.”

The bill has nonetheless faced some opposition, including from the conservative Eagle Forum, which has said the bill promotes Common Core standards.

Baker said that this bill is “divorced from Common Core standards.” He emphasized that standards are set by the state department of education, and while the Numeracy Act references these standards, it doesn’t change them or set new ones. In 2019, statewide math standards were rewritten by the Alabama State Board of Education in an effort to separate the state from the national standards.

Because the bill was substituted in the House Education Policy Committee, after House passage it would need to return to the Senate for another vote.

One of the changes in this substitute is an extra option given to schools who fail to show adequate progress after seven years of state intervention and support.

In the original bill, local school boards in this case were given the option of “complete reconstitution of the school” or applying to become a public charter school. The substitute adds the choice to have an “external receiver” sign a contract to take control of the school. This could be a college, a non-profit organization, a charter management organization or a person that’s shown success in helping underperforming schools.

Orr on Thursday said he was supportive of the changes made in the lower chamber.

“Those in the education community appear very excited about the possibility of this bill becoming law and that it will substantially move the needle when it comes to improving our children’s learning of mathematics in the early years,” Orr said.

Alabama Daily News reporter Mary Sell contributed to this report.


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