Originally created 05/12/05

State to overhaul math courses



ATLANTA - Students in Georgia's high schools will see sweeping changes to their math courses in coming years, as the state undertakes an overhaul of its teaching standards that some say will put it ahead of the rest of the nation.

The new math guidelines follow the approach taken by Japanese schools, whose students regularly rank among the best in the world on international tests. The standards are expected to be unanimously approved by the state Board of Education this morning.

The vote will cap off a nearly yearlong effort to approve the new standards in all of Georgia's core classes, guidelines that educators spent months crafting before sending them to the board.

"It has been a long time coming, but well worth the wait," Superintendent Kathy Cox said.

In adopting the Japanese approach, the state will essentially scrap classes that deal with a single area of math, such as algebra I, algebra II and geometry. Those classes will, in a sense, be folded together to create math I, math II, math III and math IV. Advanced placement courses that students can take to try to earn college credits in calculus, for example, still will be offered.

"Georgia is now on the cutting edge of real, significant change in mathematics education in the United States," said Thomas Ottinger, an associate professor of mathematics at Reinhart College in Waleska. Mr. Ottinger was part of a panel that crafted the new standards.

The new courses, as well as a set of revised guidelines for middle school pupils that the board had already approved, will gradually be phased in. Sixth-graders will begin to see changes in the coming school year, seventh grade will be covered the following year, and so on.

High school math will make the change in the 2008-09 school year.

The new guidelines will cut down on "re-teaching the same shallow ideas at the same shallow depth," said Brad Findell, an assistant professor of math education at the University of Georgia who helped create the new standards.

He also said the approach was closer to the way math is done in the real world.

Ms. Cox said it also would boost the level of math Georgia students receive. Currently, fewer than 20 percent of the state's students have taken algebra II by the time they finish high school; under the new system, everyone will have taken the equivalent of algebra II before graduating.

Claire Pierce, who presented the new standards to the board, said some of the main complaints from teachers and others dealt with how quickly the framework was supposed to be put in place.

"We need to make change, and it is time to begin," she said.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.