(Editor's Note: The following letter was sent to the Board of Education and reprinted here at the writer's request.)
When I review the grade-level packets that my children receive as homework I often find significant mistakes in the usage of vocabulary and math terms.
As you are aware it takes three times as long to unlearn the 'wrong' message as it takes to learn the 'correct' message.
Perhaps that might be the problem with fourth grade test scores. Our children are learning from mimeographed copies of 'age appropriate worksheets' but they themselves are wrong or incorrect.
I don't think it is the fault of teachers or the principals since it is a grade-wide distribution; but here are two examples:
* In a geography worksheet the word 'coast' was used instead of the word 'border' - but there were no water boundaries involved. So, would you measure the width of Nevada in miles from its west coast to its east coast? Of course not. But this mistake was repeated almost a dozen times on a two-page homework assignment. So now third graders will be confused that a boundary is a coast even if there is no water around for miles!
* Having taught math and science, I was also surprised that one math worksheet that my child brought home had the x-axis marked as the vertical axis and the y-axis marked as the horizontal axis. Graphing is critical to successful mastering of math and science, yet our kids' first exposure to it had the two most critical concepts reversed. How long do you think it will take for kids to unlearn that mistake? (The x-axis is the horizontal axis.)
I hope this gives you insight as to why maybe the problems on the fourth grade test scores might be more embedded in the curriculum than you think.