A WASLing We Go

Sunday, August 05, 2007
A number of my grandchildren are attending public schools in Washington (two year trial). Washington is attempting to comply with the NCLB (and its antecedents) testing requirements through the institution of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The State Legislature (AKA as the Washington State Home for Microencephalics) determined that passage of the WASL in the senior year of high school was going to be a prerequisite for graduation. Well, they did until a precursor test was given last year to high school sophomores with the result being a failure rate of more than 50% on the math portion, at which point the legislators took the bull by the horns, grasped the nettle and punted the ball off the field. Thirteen years and $100 million just weren't enough for the educrats to dumb down the tests that actually require specific knowledge and correct answers to the point where half the kids can bluff their way through as they do with reading and writing.

Should parents in Washington wish to determine why young Festus and Marigold can't add, they need look no farther than the front page of the Sample math WASL questions of the Port Angeles School District where they will find writing rather than basic computational skill holding the preeminent position:

Why Students Should Write in Math Class

Writing should be an integral part of teaching all subjects. Writing is used as a tool to help students think about ideas.

Progress has been slow in the area of writing in mathematics. Mathematics is seen as a subject that communicates through the manipulation of symbols in orderly ways, not as one that uses words to express ideas. This view is unfortunate - and misleading.

The process of writing requires gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts. It demands finding out what you know and don't know. It calls for thinking clearly. Similarly, doing mathematics depends on gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts, finding out what you know and don't know, and thinking clearly. Although the final representation of a mathematical pursuit looks very different from the final product of a writing effort, the mental journey is, at its base, the same - making sense of an idea and presenting it effectively.

Writing can assist math instruction in two ways - by helping children make sense of mathematics and by helping teachers understand what children are learning.

My grandchildren are not in the Port Angeles district but the district in which they live takes precisely the same attitude, elevating written communication to the point where I've been spending time concocting arithmetic drills so that my granddaughter can enter the fifth grade having mastered the basic multiplication tables. I'm not a big fan of rote learning but there are foundational elements to arithmetic which both lend themselves to that method and are truly basic. How far can any individual go in math without having mastered the very elementary basics? How much weight should clarity in expression be given in assessing an incorrect answer to 6 X 8?

Beyond that, why in the world would anyone whose IQ exceeds the two digit threshold trust an educrat whose writing skills permit this gargle:
Progress has been slow in the area of writing in mathematics. Mathematics is seen as a subject that communicates through the manipulation of symbols in orderly ways, not as one that uses words to express ideas. This view is unfortunate - and misleading.

I understand that the educrat who generated that drivel was shooting low based upon his perception of the intelligence of the intended audience but the quality of communication on a peer to peer basis between educrats is no better. If there were pain receptors in brain cells, an intelligent person would be screaming in agony before finishing the first paragraph of most of the garbage which passes for "communication" between educrats. Unless they were wholly in tune with 'progressive thought', in which case they would swoon over the careful attention paid to the 'disadvantaged' coupled with the even more careful attention paid to the claim of 'if we were just adequately funded'.

What comes after the progs have successfully dumbed down kids to the point where they believe that larger numbers are always oppressors of smaller numbers? That 15 has an unfair advantage over 10 and there is no way to fix it because if 10 were given 3 of 15's ill gotten advantage of 5 then 13 could still lord it over 12? Will they, perhaps, be encouraged to turn to credentialed "experts" for to resolve such apparently insoluble problems?

I'm not sure that our experiment with public schools will make it to two full years.

UPDATE: If I possessed a functioning brain cell to call my very own, I would have checked into Kitchen Table Math where Catherine Johnson continues to slug it out. One pass through and I now have 3 sites for decent math primers.


chuck said...

one + two = eleven ?

Rick Ballard said...


Anonymous said...

Bravo! A+, both of you.

chuck said...

Rick, count the letters.

chuck said...

Bravo! A+, both of you.

Blush, thanks skook. The only other A+ I got was in quantum mechanics.

Ed onWestSlope said...

Thank You all.
It was a laugh which I sorely needed.

Barry Dauphin said...


Aren't you kinda young to have grandchildren;>)

Rote learning has its place IMHO, especially for basic math facts. A moderate degree of rote learning doesn't shackle one's mind, it frees one's mind to take on more complex concepts. It is interesting that public schools emphasize written expression, and yet (speaking as a college instructor) the writing skills of so many undergrads are god-awful.

I think part of the reason reveals itself in your post. Writing for math???? The educrats emphasize quantity over quality. So they have the kids churn out assignment upon assignment (What does it feel like to be multiplied by an odd two digit number?). Poor writing habits become ingrained. It would be preferable for teachers to assign writing for classes that make sense for that (Language Arts and Social Studies) and focus more on quality.

ambisinistral said...

Chuck's problem is also correct, symbol-wise, in binary.

loner said...

They Say: Use your words.

I reply: Idiots.

Regarding chuck's equation: Somehow one plus one equals eleven feels more correct.

Rick Ballard said...

"Regarding chuck's equation: Somehow one plus one equals eleven feels more correct."

Well, there are 10 ways to look at that, so the odds are 50/50 that you're right.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Rick I check Kitchen Table Math once or twice a month. The educational establishment seems to be the very heart of the darkness.

Rick Ballard said...


I believe that Catherine has moved from a belief that educrats were simply unskilled in communication to a point closer to my interpretation of their gibberish as purposefully incoherent. I've spent a fair amount of time evaluating essays by A students from wealthy districts in the Bay Area for the purpose of awarding DAR scholarships. Thirty essays per year for five years and never more than two in any year which could be said to comply with even a generous interpretation of the basics of articulating a personal view of rather elementary subjects. I feel Barry's pain, and having spent even more years as a reader of graduate level examinations within the area in which the writer had presumed proficiency, I can state with assurance that additional years of schooling do not alleviate the deficiency.

What I despise the most about what I'm seeing in schools is the absolute disservice being done to the 70% of the kids who will not be going on to make professor's lives a living hell. Those kids would, at minimum, learn something about perserverance and endurance, traits which would serve them all their lives, rather than the false pride engendered by continual pats for substandard performance, were their teachers to make even minimal attempts to pound in a few basics, rather than wait for bulbs that will never do more than glow dimly to burst into radiance.

chuck said...

Those kids would, at minimum, learn something about perserverance and endurance, traits which would serve them all their lives...

Speaking of which, I had one student in college algebra who had already flunked it twice but was diligent about his homework. I worked the class hard and gave him a D, still not a passing grade. As it happened, I ran into his wife one day and she asked if I thought he would ever pass. Yes, I said, I thought he was beginning to catch on to the idea. Sure enough, he passed on his fourth try.

I will add, a D from me would have earned at least a C from some of the TA's. My standard was that a hard working and intelligent student should be able to earn a B. Those who also had a talent for the subject might earn A's.

chuck said...

BTW, the old kitchen table math seems to have passed on last December. I just updated the link to the new venue.