Lawmakers Look to Up Math Requirements for High Schoolers

Senator Ann Millner (Republican - Ogden)
Senator Ann Millner (Republican – Ogden)

A bill that proposes raising math requirements for Utah students was unanimously passed out of the Senate Education Committee with a favorable recommendation Friday.

SB 196 – Math Competency Initiative, which is sponsored by Senator Ann Millner (Republican – Ogden), would give students several different ways to demonstrate math competency.

Millner is looking to help solve the longtime problem of college students having to enroll in remedial math courses because they are unprepared for higher education math when they leave high school.

“We have been dealing with this problem for a decade. Actually longer than a decade. I just asked [the fiscal analyst] to produce numbers of the last decade. We have consistently had 12,000 students every year that were enrolled in developmental math or remedial math on our college campuses,” Millner told the committee.

Students who plan to attend college will have to pass an assessment test or earn a C grade or better on a concurrent enrollment math course under the proposed legislation. Those students who choose not attend college would receive a career and technology education certificate, which would affirm that they have adequate math skills for their chosen line of work.

Regarding the idea of requiring students to take 4 years of math in high school, Millner doesn’t think that is the way to go. “I think we need to think about this as math competency and demonstration of competency and move away from seat time. That’s really one of my intended goals here,” Millner said. “If students are on a college-bound pathway, let’s put them on a pathway where they complete the competency and actually get that documented for their quanatative literacy requirement that they have to have in order to complete their general education [requirements] at a college or university.”

According to Millner, 40 percent of Utah college students are taking developmental courses in math. Only 18 percent of high school graduates were “math-ready” for college without having to take remedial courses.

Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) was outraged by the low number of students who are competent in math. “It’s impossible. It’s appalling. I’m not sure we have a tendency to give equivalency to sometimes all bills as they come rolling along, but this piece of paper makes me want to set my hair on fire.”

Peter Cannon, a former Davis School Board member, feels that adding math as a graduation requirement is going too far. “If you increase the graduation requirements on students, we will have less graduation. So although you may benefit a few students in getting them ready for math in college, there are going to be some that don’t want to mess with that.”

Richard Kendell, policy advisor for Education First and Prosperity 2020, is optimistic about the bill’s objectives. “When I first read it, I wasn’t sure whether this was 1995, 2005, or 2015. Because it seems like we have addressed this and adressed this, but we have not had a breakthrough moment. Perhaps this is going to be the breakthrough moment in terms of trying to establish greater proficiency for students in mathematics. The current pattern doesn’t work very well.”

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