The State Office of Education has displeased some legislators by unanimously approving new state secondary math standards some lawmakers say just don't cut it.

But State Board of Education members say the standards are a significant improvement from before, and they didn't take kindly to a letter from lawmakers that was sent to board members Thursday urging them to reject the proposed new standards because they are not the "world-class" standards the committee set out to create.

"We believe we had very responsible and educated people on the committee that (drafted the standards) — but as we go along everyone is going to have a differing opinion," said board member Teresa Theurer, who said she was extremely supportive of the new standards.

"Personally I was disappointed that an e-mail like that would come right before board meeting. I think that is really, really poor taste — this has been going on a very long time," she said. The board plans to send a reply next week addressing a few of the "misconceptions" the lawmakers had.

But Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who sent the letter along with Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, and Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the state board has made only marginal improvements that are unacceptable.

The legislators had earlier sought input from national mathematics expert and Stanford University professor James Milgram, who said the new standards are "so bad that there is literally no way they can simply be corrected."

"I am not going to sit idly by while the state school board accepts mediocrity. ... These are weak standards and should not have been approved," Stephenson said. He told the Deseret Morning News he now plans to convince the Legislature to set the math standards through legislation next session.

"There is sort of a culture in the State Office of not wanting to move into the 21st century and not wanting to compete in this world — if I were the other citizens of Utah I would be very worried about the actions of our state board. They are not helping, they are not part of the solution, they have proven today that they are part of the problem," Stephenson said.

In February 2006, Stephenson tasked a committee with studying the state's math core to correct problems he saw with the Alpine School District's controversial program, which allowed unconventional problem-solving methods to be used in deepening a student's understanding of math.

The committee, which included some of the nation's top mathematicians and math education professors, gave mixed reviews of Utah public school math, with some experts believing only a few changes were needed and others calling for a complete curriculum overhaul.

In November 2006, the Legislature's Public Education Interim Committee ordered creation of "world-class math standards," and a new committee went to work.

The mathematicians and math education professors on the committee were frequently at odds with each other over goals and developmentally appropriate methods for the Utah core.

During the past few months the state held a number of presentations and public comment sessions statewide.

And though the new standards will be in effect immediately, they could change again if the Legislature steps in, something Stephenson said has been done in other states.

"The Legislature has always had the prerogative of setting these standards. It has the power of purse and the power of setting standards," Stephenson said. "When a state board has been derelict in setting those standards, it's appropriate for the Legislature to intervene.

For more information on the standards visit www.schools.utah.gov/curr/math/sec.


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com