Math Initiative Deserves Further Investigation

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Dear Editor:

I urge Post readers to dig deeper on the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative (06/25/21 issue).

The SOL passing rates presented are from a dumbed-down test. In 2018, the SOL was reworked, reducing the number of required correct answers for third through eighth grade by an average of 2.8 across these grades, vs. an equally rigorous revised test. Now “passing” the SOL requires only 51.3% of test questions be answered correctly on average across these grades. For the Virginia Department of Education, mission accomplished: Math SOL pass rates jumped five points, with increases in various demographics ranging from two to 10 points, without any bothersome additional learning.

DOE rolled out the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative in April 2021 as “equity work.” Its first stated goal is to “improv(e) equity in mathematics learning opportunities” (words of VDOE officials in quotes). The initiative as first published eliminated accelerated math courses before 11th grade, abolishing opportunity in the name of equity. After media reports, the website was edited to de emphasize course elimination and deprioritize equity. State Education Superintendent James Lane and his employees have since talked about “accelerated pathways” for students, but studiously avoided plain English words like “track,” “course,” or “class.”

As for educator testimonials, when Northern Virginia is selling, I keep my hand on my wallet.

Read more than headlines and DOE’s pitch – examine the source materials that drove the initiative and parse the words of its promoters. After doing so, I conclude that the Pathway, through 10th grade, would put every student into a single class of fuzzy “essential concepts” regardless of the child’s interests or capabilities. It would combine such disparate learners that teachers would have to focus instruction on the bottom quartile, who each year in their SOL scores demonstrate their need for differentiated instruction focused on core skills. This one-size-fits-all, cap-your-horizon approach will be our children’s math experience in 2025 without action. It will harm both math lovers and math strugglers.

Parents should contact their school boards and DOE (vdoe.mathematics@doe.virginia.gov) to demand a practical, tracked mathematics curriculum with advanced, intermediate, and foundational courses that match content to interest and ability.

Howard Turner Jr., Exmore
Glen Allen, Va.