Evaluate state math initiative soon

Give West Virginia Department of Education officials credit for coming up with a catchy name for their initiative to improve Mountain State students’ achievement in mathematics. They call it math4life.

But will it accomplish what needs to happen in our schools?

Last fall, results of the first round of “Balanced Scorecard” evaluations of public schools in the state were released. They were not acceptable.

Especially worrisome were reports regarding mathematics. Eighty-eight percent of the state’s 116 high schools showed math achievement far below levels expected by state officials.

Here in the six Northern Panhandle counties, all 11 public high schools were in the “does not meet standard” category for math.

Interestingly, our elementary and middle school students did better, as did their peers statewide. Twenty-nine of those schools in our counties performed better than the high schools. Thirteen also were in the “does not meet standard” category, however.

To their credit, state officials did not attempt to gloss over the dismal performance in math. Education department leaders quickly came up with math4life to address the shortcomings.

An outline of the plan, being implemented in all 55 counties, can be found on the education agency’s website. It includes the type of language you would expect. A sample: under math4life, the DOE will “develop and share exemplars, rigorous mathematics standards frameworks built around best pedagogical practices, instructional resources/strategies, extended learning opportunities, and technology supports …”

We’ve heard it, or language like it, so many times before, however.

Still, one has to start somewhere.

Improvement such as that required cannot occur overnight. At some point this year, it should be possible to determine whether the new approach is working — or is merely one more of the many inaccurately-named “reform” campaigns that have done little or nothing.

State officials view math4life as a five-year program, to be evaluated annually. That may not be enough. Surely something can be told about whether the initiative is working by this summer. Some means of evaluating it within that time frame should be devised. West Virginians cannot afford to waste time in getting our children up to speed in math.