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Utah's 'fuzzy math' curriculum scrapped; legislators endorse plan to revamp state standards

Published November 16, 2006 7:11 am
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Posted: 7:09 AM- Parents frustrated by their children's math classes scored a victory Wednesday when Utah State Schools Superintendent Patti Harrington offered to revamp math standards and said she has relegated a controversial teaching method to the sidelines.

The moves came during a meeting of the Legislature's Education Interim Committee during which lawmakers endorsed a plan for a full revision of state math standards, which dictate what kids should know at different grade levels.

Several legislators worried about overstepping their duties by telling educators what to do. In the end, four voted against the resolution, which was drafted and presented by Harrington on behalf of the Utah State Board of Education.

She also told the group she has directed her staff to take the controversial "Investigations" curriculum off the list of approved primary textbooks. Districts still can use the more conceptual method, but must supplement it with more traditional texts, Harrington said.

The Investigations curriculum angered many parents who deemed it "fuzzy math" and eventually contacted legislators. Leading the charge was Brigham Young University math professor David Wright, who urged state leaders to overhaul Utah's standards or scrap them and adopt California's.

In February, lawmakers asked the state school board to review Utah's standards to see if they warranted a revamp. Two separate reviews concluded the standards could use some touchup work but didn't need a full makeover.

In October, reviewers reported their findings to the Education Interim Committee, which also heard from three math professors who bemoaned Utah's standards and the reviews that largely endorsed them. The lawmakers agreed to mull the testimony until their next meeting.

At Wednesday's meeting, most of the discussion centered around whether a legislative committee should tell the state school board what to do.

"We're frequently accused of being a super school board," said Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville. "Looking at this [resolution], I wonder if that's what we're doing."

Other legislators thought the committee should endorse stronger standards.

"We're simply sending a signal of encouragement to the state school board," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "We're sending a message to them saying, 'We hope you'll take this seriously because it's important to us.'"

Wright was satisfied with Wednesday's outcome.

"I'm very pleased but this is only a first step," he said. "What will happen next depends on the quality of the (revision committee) and the follow through."

-- Nicole Stricker can be contacted at nstricker@sltrib.com or 801-257-8999. Send comments about this story to livingeditor@sltrib.com.




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