I knew exactly what the Dec. 11 article, Student math woes add up, was going to state just from reading the headline. I can tell you the culprit for such poor math skills: Students aren’t being required to memorize multiplication facts. I’ve found that the students who take the time to memorize their facts are better students overall. This is true whether they are general education, gifted or even special education students.
As a teacher for 17 years, I’ve seen the decline of math education due to the sole focus on the FCAT. The mentality is: If it’s not directly tested, then it’s not taught. Everyone claims that the new testing standards will encourage more “higher order thinking.” One cannot think critically with a very shallow depth of knowledge. I was actually reprimanded for allotting time for multiplication drills and was told that this was a waste of time and not rigorous enough. If the students don’t know it and I make them practice, doesn’t that make it rigorous?
Times tables is the ABC song of math. Without knowing these facts, one cannot multiply, add or divide. That’s three of the four operations of mathematics. This is why students are unable to compute fractions, decimals and solve for percents.
Recently, while helping my fifth-grade daughter complete a homework assignment, I realized that she was using repeated subtraction to solve a division problem. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this is how her teacher taught her to solve these problems as part of the new curriculum. Math has to be taught in a sequential order. Begin with the concrete like times tables, fractions, percents and number sense. Then move to the more abstract like algebra and critical thinking applications.
We’re doing our students a disservice by constantly skipping the building blocks and then exposing them to abstract concepts before they have mastered the necessary foundational skills. It’s no wonder that so many students start hating math early and then struggle for their entire school careers.
The shame is that in our “Race to the Top” we are leaving so many behind and even those who make it to the finish line are unprepared for the challenges ahead. We need to view this journey as more of a marathon instead of a sprint. Let’s prepare our students with a curriculum that encompasses all the necessary skills, not just those on the current version of the FCAT.
Michelle Carasco, Florida City