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Utah students need better math preparation, lawmaker says

Published December 10, 2013 3:44 pm

Education • 72% of high school graduates aren't ready for college math, Urquhart says.
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Math, says Sen. Stephen Urquhart, "is the burial ground for higher education aspirations."

Some 72 percent of Utah high school graduates aren't ready for college math and that sabotages their ability to finish college, the St. George Republican told fellow lawmakers on the Legislature's Education Task Force Tuesday.

A student who has to take even one remedial math class has only a 25 percent chance of finishing college, Urquhart said.

"If you come to college unprepared, you are not likely to graduate," he said.

To address the problem, Urquhart plans to propose legislation in the upcoming session that would give students incentives, perhaps by way of scholarships, to take Math 1050 (college algebra) in high school.

He described that as a "baby step" with more math education reforms to come.

Urquhart is trying to help higher education institutions, which are spending a great deal of money to bring students up to speed on math.

The Utah Board of Regents was told last summer that 40 percent of students entering higher education need remedial math. Urquhart's 72 percent was based on the percentage of students who don't get an ACT math score of at least 23, which is considered the minimum for college math preparation.

Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, suggested the Legislature think about requiring four years of math for high school students, but Urquhart predicted little success for such a measure.

"I was the House sponsor in 2003 to do three years of math. I have the battle scars to prove it," he said.

The task force, which met nine times since May, finished up its work Tuesday, putting final touches on a report that it hopes will guide the Legislature on education issues.

The report details which factors help improve student achievement — like targeted intervention for kids, high-quality principals and data-driven instruction — and Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, suggested all proposed education bills be measured against those factors.

Some sessions, he said, 120 education bills are proposed without knowledge about what will work.

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said, "What we've learned is we may not need to propose a bunch of legislation. But (we) need a greater awareness of these issues."

The task force, chaired by House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, likely will be renewed for a second year.

Niederhauser said that while this year's task force has been about "discovery," the task force next year will look at issues such as funding.

"Now we've got to get to the nitty-gritty and one of those things is resources," he said.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton —

Classroom to cubicle: Tracking Utah students

Sen. Howard Stephenson is proposing a Utah Education and Workforce Alliance, a consortium run by a governing board of business, education and government representatives.

The goal would be to create a statewide data system with public education, higher education and workforce data. The Utah Data Alliance, a consortium already focused on similar data, would be folded into the new alliance.

The Legislature's Education Task Force endorsed such legislation from the Draper Republican Tuesday.

The bill would require the new alliance board to decide by August whether Utah Futures — a website to guide high schoolers making career and college choices — should be outsourced to a private company.