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Bush, Alexander Underscore Need for Math Assessments

April 24, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush praised the nation’s top math teachers Wednesday for serving as models for what he hopes to achieve in other subjects with his plan to improve American schools.

″You’re helping to realize one of the most ambitious″ of the six national education goals - ″that American students be first in the world in math and science achievement by the year 2000,″ Bush told more than 500 math teachers at the National Academy of Sciences.

″This challenging goal, worthy of a great nation and its future ambitions, plays an important role in our America 2000 strategy to reinvent the American school,″ he said.

Bush’s ″America 2000″ strategy calls for setting standards of what students should know in the areas of math, science, English, history and geography and developing a national system of achievement tests.

Last month, three major math groups proposed teaching standards and curricula changes for elementary and secondary schools. A few weeks ago, the National Research Council urged universities and colleges to make radical changes in undergraduate math instruction, making better use of computers and developing new teaching methods.

The groups are now struggling to agree on the best way to measure students’ achievements in math.

Many studies have shown American students lagging when compared with their overseas counterparts. One, for example, showed half of all Japanese sixth graders doing better than 95 percent of their American counterparts.

″As you consider your principles, goals and actions for math assessment,″ Bush said, ″Consider what it means to be the best in the world and the kind of balance our students will need between theoretical math and practical, applied skills for life.

″How can we create tests to ensure not just that our best students are as good as any in the world, but that our average students achieve world class status? How can we emphasize testing that encourage better teaching? That doesn’t weed kids out, but develops better math skills for all? Every student, every one needs goals and challenges. Every school needs goals and challenges,″ the president said.

Before Bush arrived, the teachers acknowledged that one contentious idea in the education initiative is that voluntary national tests in math for fourth graders will be ″in place by the time school starts in September 1993.″

Some questioned whether the tests should be drawn up by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

″I think that would be disastrous,″ said Robert Linn, professor of education at the University of Colorado.

Linn said he was skeptical about tests developed to serve the needs of policymakers and politicians, as well as students, parents, teachers and schools.

Nancy Cole of the Educational Testing Service agreed that the needs of teachers are different than those of policymakers and the methods devised to assess academic achievement must reflect those differences.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Mathematical Association of America, with support from the Mathematical Sciences Education Board, said last month students should work in groups to learm math and solve problems, not merely memorize formulas and look to the teacher for right answers.