High school students may have to add more math


SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers want to see high-schoolers add another year of math, without subtracting from students planning to hit the workforce immediately after graduation.

By Stephanie Fryer

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers want to see high-schoolers add another year of math, without subtracting from students planning to hit the workforce immediately after graduation.

State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, introduced Senate Bill 3244 that would require students to take four years of math, instead of the current three, to meet graduation requirements.

However, state Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said at a recent Senate Education Committee hearing that he doesn't want to see students set up to fail.

"Not every kid can do upper level math and be successful," said the veteran educator who has more than 30 years of experience. "Employers don't necessarily want someone who can do calculus. They want someone who can do basic skills of math."

The business community echoed Luechtefeld's concerns, saying they want employees who can add and subtract, multiply and divide. Educators said another year of math would create a financial burden for the school districts.

In response, Frerichs said he is working on amending the bill, so that courses, such as drafting and wood shop, could meet the proposed requirement.

"I know some of the people have some concerns. They just want to have greater clarity of what counts," Frerichs said. "So would a statistics class count for math? In my mind, yes. Would a drafting class that had a high degree of fractions involved would that be something that we need to work on?"

High-schoolers must complete one year-long course in algebra and another year-long course with content that addresses geometry. Local school districts determine the course content. For example, a school may offer Algebra I over a two-year period, according to the graduation requirements set by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2009.

Classes in wood shop and drafting typically require students use basic math to determine measurements and angles of cuts as well as geometry to design objects.

The students "are given 12-foot boards and they have to come up with ways to get the board cut into four pieces. … They use the everyday equations from geometry to figure out the length of the new pieces," said Emily McCray, a teacher at Hoopeston Area High School in the Hoopeston school district.

"Pretty much, we are teaching math, just in a different way," she said.

Frerichs said he drafted the bill after factory owners in his district said they saw a decline in the ability of their employees to perform basic math skills.

"I've run into this issue with several of my employers. They are having trouble finding qualified candidates who have the math skills to do what would seem to be very basic jobs," Frerichs said.

Jim Nelson, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturing Association, or IMA, a trade group representing state manufacturers, said anyone in manufacturing jobs from welders to factory line-workers rely heavily on math.

"Today (the work) relies on using vertical measurements and barometers. Workers need to read blueprints in both metric and standard systems. All this requires … math," Nelson said.

School officials are looking at the costs of a fourth year of math.

"If everyone has to take the class, you are going to have to have more classes. There will be scheduling problems, space problems, and you're probably going to need more math teachers," said Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of governmental relations at the Illinois Association of School Boards, a voluntary organization of local school boards that promotes quality education.

Keith Liddell, principal of Carterville High School in the Carterville Community Unit School District Number 5, stressed the financial impact of another year of math.

"Between base salary, and by the time you add in the pension the district is obligated to pay, and don't forget the insurance — well add those up and you're looking at roughly $50,000 to add one staff member in our case," Liddell said.

This past year, the state gave the school districts $4.5 billion in general state aid. Gov. Pat Quinn in his proposed budget wants to keep that funding flat for the upcoming year.

Each year Illinois juniors take the Prairie State Achievement Examination, or PSAE, which measures student achievement in reading, science and math. Results from the 2011 PSAE show that only 51 percent of high school juniors throughout Illinois met or exceeded state standards in math.

"There are students who are not going to go to college who may not have the aptitude to take that fourth, higher level math class and our concern is now you are going to put some of the students in a position where they can't succeed," the school board association's Schwarm said.

The state Senate committee passed the proposal Friday on a 6-4 vote, but the amendments must go back through the committee process.

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