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Education: Math Skills in California Schools

March 31, 1994

I have seen the recent results of the CLAS (California Learning Assessment Scores) for the Los Angeles and suburban area fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students. Something is indeed amiss in California!

As professor emeritus of mathematics and computer science in the Los Angeles Community College District, I have noted with alarm, over the past 25 years, the great decline in the understanding of BASICS (that means decimals, fractions, percentages and applications) of arithmetic!

The results of the CLAS show that in the Palos Verdes Unified School District, 70% are classified as being 1, 2, or 3 (the three lowest levels) of understanding at fourth grade; 59% being in 1, 2, or 3 at eighth grade; 67% at 10th grade. The Los Angeles schools recorded: 97% being in the three lowest levels at fourth grade; 96% at eighth grade and 96% at 10th grade. Torrance schools recorded: 88%, 86% and 84%.

This is indeed shocking. We are living in an age where it is even more necessary than ever that our students have an understanding of the basics of mathematics.

I taught remedial mathematics to adults in California community colleges for over 24 years. My students varied in age from 18 to 65. I remember the students, many having come up through the Los Angeles educational system, having such difficulty doing some math problems, for example: 4 + 5 X 6 (The answer is 34. The multiplication must be done first.)

I would think, surely, these students have had third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade arithmetic, which includes decimals and fractions. Yet, they struggled and repeated these same elementary school topics in a final attempt to learn the concepts. Are the present fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students going to be repeating the mistakes of the previous generation?

After many years of working with students, I observed that the young students, especially, would excel in mathematics, once the methods were presented in a logical manner. Not only must these methods be presented correctly, but the instructor should have the confidence and understanding to do the presenting.

If I were the parent of a fourth-, eighth- or 10th-grader, I would take a very close look at the textbooks the children were using to see if I, as an adult, could follow the reasoning. I would visit the math teachers (especially at the lower grades) to make sure that the teachers were comfortable with their knowledge of the subject and competent in teaching the basics of math. (Some teachers today were my students of 10 to 20 years ago; others were students of the "new math").

Perhaps this is the time to look at alternatives in the field of education. Perhaps there are valid reasons why we had a "voucher initiative" on the ballot in November, 1993.

This country cannot maintain its technological greatness if we keep on turning out students who lack the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic!


Rancho Palos Verdes

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