Monday, February 23, 2009

Changes in New Jersey Mathematics Standards Cause Concern

New Jersey educators are up in arms over the recent changes to the state's mathematics standards. For the past year, a writing team worked to revise the state's standards and develop a newer, updated version. This February, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) released the revisions.

To the surprise of many, including those who were on the writing team, the draft released by the NJDOE was not the draft that the writing team had turned in, and contained several key differences. The writing team soon found out that the NJDOE hired someone else to revise the standards, completely foregoing the standards revision process that was designed by the NJDOE.

Educators have come together and created an ad hoc committee of Concerned Mathematics Educators of New Jersey. They state on their website that the new draft "consists largely of cumulative progress indicators (CPIs) that are lifted verbatim from a few other state standards (primarily Indiana and California), and that do not fit in with the rest of the document or connect to the surrounding CPIs or grade-level expectations."

Dr. Cathy Liebars, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the College of New Jersey, said that the standards released by the NJDOE could have a negative impact since they focus more on a procedural form of teaching as opposed to furthering conceptual understanding. The new standards also eliminate the use of calculators in grades K-7, which many educators say would have a negative impact on children who are growing up in an increasingly technologically proficient world.

There are also many arbitrary changes in curriculum topics and when they are taught. This poses a considerable problem to teachers, since they might have to drastically change their curricula. What was once taught in 3rd grade may now not be taught until 5th, creating an issue if the concepts contained therein are referred to in 4th grade lessons.

Besides the contents, one of the main issues that the Concerned Mathematics Educators of New Jersey have with the new draft is the "behind the back" way in which the NJDOE went about changing the standards without notifying the writing team. After all, the team had spent a year doing intensive research to develop standards that would be most beneficial to New Jersey's schoolchildren. They should have been a part of the revisions, especially since that is what NJDOE procedure dictates.

The Concerned Mathematics Educators of New Jersey are recommending to the state that the NJDOE follow the standards revision process that they themselves created, reinstate the writing team's revisions, and invite all interested parties to comment on the writing team's version and prepare a new set of standards that are agreeable to all. They are encouraging all other concerned educators to fill out a supportive statement to the Concerned Mathematics Educators of New Jersey, which can be found easily on their website: http://sites.google.com/site/cmeofnj

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