In the basics basement

To the editor:

In reading your Thursday article about Clark County high school students’ horrible scores for algebra and geometry, I came across a sentence that said teachers are not teaching the curriculum because they are working with basic math skills. That was followed with a statement on how that can’t be allowed because the teachers need to "cover" the material. "Covering" the material won’t result in better scores.

Good teachers don’t "cover" the material. They start with the level the students are on and teach them the skills needed to understand and do the course material.

Part of the reason high school and middle school teachers are having to review basic skills is that these are not being emphasized in the elementary schools.

I am an elementary school teacher, and I believe that the reason the basic skills are not being acquired by our students is very simple: We are not given the time needed to ensure mastery of basic facts. Our curriculum is too broad and skills are required that are inappropriate for an average student of that age-level. My high school daughter came in to help one day and was amazed that the fourth-grade students were being asked to do what she was doing in the ninth grade.

In my opinion, if elementary schools were allowed to focus on basic number skills, the students would be ready to move quickly through the more challenging curriculum in higher grades. The addition of algebra and geometry skills, reading charts, and the other skills in the curriculum would go quickly and smoothly if delayed until students had a firm grasp of what numbers are and what can be done with them. Waiting until around fourth grade with these skills would not delay learning because the students would have the maturity and knowledge to acquire them quickly.

No matter what the textbooks or class curriculum are, until the curriculum requirements are modified at the elementary level to allow time for mastery of basic facts, poor scores and students without mastery of basic facts will remain the frustrating state of affairs.

Vicky Kelly



Dumbing down

To the editor:

The shock wave that has just been sent through the Clark County School District administration surprises me. Five years ago, I was a junior at Sierra Vista High School and took the proficiency exams. At that time, the math exam was probably the (and believe me, I say this lightly) hardest it had ever been. Even that exam was an embarrassingly easy test of basic math skills. When a large portion of students failed the exam, the school district dumbed down the exam multiple years in a row.

So now that there is another abysmal showing of math skills in the valley, why is it any shock? When the position of the school district administration is to continue to lower expectations to ensure high graduation rates, all they succeed in doing is dumbing down students.

If the superintendent would like the very poor reputation of the Clark County School District to continue, then by all means continue to figure out ways of changing the exams to make them easier.

On the other hand, if the superintendent actually cares about increasing the level of education of his students, then stop pandering to the complaining students, teachers and parents and actually make students learn.

Josh Schein



Honor student

To the editor:

Thank you for your Thursday article on math test failures.

My niece recently "graduated" from Eldorado High School. She was a four-year honor student, graduating with a grade-point average greater than 3.7, a four-year member of the Eldorado Choir and Madrigals and theater, missed an average of two days per year, took six classes her senior year (finishing with more than 30 credits, well above what was required), worked almost full-time her last two years in school and helped run a family business. She was never arrested, no drugs — a good kid.

Yet at commencement she received a "certificate of attendance." Why? Because she cannot pass the math portion of the high school proficiency test. She received personal instruction when still at school, and once out of high school she attended the district-sponsored math tutoring class and took the online tutorial.

She has taken the test nine times. On her most recent unsuccessful attempt, she missed passing by two questions. She received A’s and B’s in high school math, so it is not that she is that bad.

After reading your article, I can now finally say it has got to be a bad test.

Joe Gemma



A’s in self-esteem

To the editor:

Thursday’s headline about failed math tests says it all. After spending tens of millions of dollars on "curriculum development," our school district cannot teach high school students to do math that the average seventh-grader could do in the ’60s. It is time to throw out all the modern theories about education and not hurting students’ feelings and return to what was proven to work decades ago.

We need to have graduates who can work and cope in the real world, not functional illiterates who feel good about their self-esteem.

Robert Raider



Rethink, revamp

To the editor:

In response to your Thursday article, "New math tests overwhelm large percentage of Clark County high school students," I don’t understand why we don’t revamp the entire system.

Why don’t we have skill sets instead of grades? We should require children to complete a skill set before moving on. If they advanced in some skill sets and repeated only the ones they needed to, it wouldn’t be noticed as much by their peers as it is when they are forced to repeat an entire grade.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but common sense tells me our classes are too big, our kids aren’t getting it, and we are missing the basics. Our kids aren’t stupid, they are just overwhelmed and unnoticed. Our schools have turned into social problem-solving centers instead of trainers of basic skill sets.

We need to tear apart the antiquated system of grades and find a new way to teach the skills our children will need to compete in the real world.

Bernadette Courtney



Stop social promotion

To the editor:

So schools consultant Bill Hanlon has discovered that teachers aren’t teaching advanced math skills because they’re too busy teaching basic math skills? Doesn’t this mean that students shouldn’t be passed on to advanced classes until they have achieved grade-level in basic classes? Whatever happened to the concept of retaining students who weren’t ready for advancement?

Until students are required to master basic skills, they will have no incentive to try.

Pardon the pun, but this is a "no-brainer."

Paul Versailles



Who’s paying attention?

To the editor:

After reading your Thursday article about the math test failures, I don’t know which is worse: the actual scores or that the administration seemed so surprised. How could it be that no one knew the level of education was so poor? What are the school principals and administration doing all day?

If the Clark County School District were a business, it would be bankrupt for not delivering on its promises.

The future of our community depends on quality education. We are a long way from seeing it.

Philip Cohen



Retaining teachers

To the editor:

Mathematics education is often, and very accurately, perceived as a ladder. Each rung represents a set of mathematical concepts, which then leads to another. Like a missing rung, failure to master the concepts at one level increases the difficulty in reaching the next.

In order to be successful in Algebra 1, students must have mastery of a few basic mathematical concepts: integers, fractions, decimals and basic operations. Experience with the concept of variables and graphing is also beneficial, but not as necessary.

Social promotion is the primary culprit for the test failures detailed in Thursday’s Review-Journal. This policy advances a student to the next grade level without requiring mastery of the prerequisite skills. In mathematics education, this is a prescription for failure nearly every time.

The problem is further compounded by class sizes over 30 and poor retention of quality teachers. The prior inhibits a teacher from providing all of their students the one-on-one instruction they need. The latter increases the demand for new teachers, often requiring the school district to hire anybody qualified to fill those positions. Too often this results in the hiring of subpar teachers. In my six years, I have seen at least a dozen exceptional math teachers leave the district from my school alone.

None of these issues can be resolved by a teacher in the classroom. They can only be resolved by the district administration. If any of them are unaware of these issues, they consult with me and the many other dedicated mathematics teachers within this district. This will more likely result in solutions, instead of inaccurate accusations and blame.

Travis Bowker


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