Instruction in Arithmetic Devastated Under Superintendent Grasmick

Jun 27, 2011 by

By Jerome Dancis, Associate Professor Emeritus, Math Dept., Univ. of MDMath Education Website:\~jnd

I handed the young cashier five quarters; she wanted to enter the amount into the cash register, but could not calculate their total worth.  So she had to ask a coworker what is the total; which is:  $1.25.  This simple type of Arithmetic problem is barely taught.  Under the guidance of Dr. Nancy Grasmick, retiring Maryland’s (MD) State Superintendent of schools (since 1991), learning Arithmetic is no longer a requirement for high school graduation.

Many Maryland (MD) students are learning Arithmetic poorly.  This is a natural consequence of the marginalization of Arithmetic, which occurred in two waves of “reform” implemented under Grasmick.  The first was instituting the MD state MSPAP tests of the 1990s:  As Robert C. Embry, Jr, former head of the Maryland State Board of Education, wrote (December 1996): “… one [MSPAP] question had students manipulating a dozen small pieces of paper to figure out the area of a room–seemingly to avoid making a simple calculation [of length times width].”

The second wave of “reform” was the Maryland Voluntary Math Curriculum (which was not voluntary) and the Maryland High School Assessments [MD HSA].

Class time previously allocated to Arithmetic is now allocated to low level Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, probability, Data analysis and problem solving. (Example: measure the heights of the children in the class; find average, median and mode, then make a bar graph; repeat in many grades!) With so many topics to teach each year (in K-8), there is no way to have a coherent curriculum.  Soon after a topic is started, it is time to move on to the next topic; this occurs before the learning is moved into long-term memory. This makes it easy for students to forget a Math topic within a month. Students are not remembering Arithmetic because far too little time is left for Arithmetic.

With weak knowledge of Arithmetic, students are at-risk in real Algebra classes.

Before Grasmick, it was common for high school Algebra I to be the Algebra I expected by colleges.  No more! It has been replaced by the syllabus of the MD HSA on Functions, Algebra, Probability and Data Analysis.  This so-called “HSA on Algebra” is mostly Grade 6 level background for Algebra.  Basic, simple Algebra, like   2x + 3x  =  5x,  is omitted.

This has resulted in  (when “Minimally Ready for College Math”  is defined as knowing Arithmetic  and real (not HSA) Algebra I.):
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