Tribute to Myrna Manly

Good Day All!

This week in the Math and Numeracy Group we will pay tribute to Myrna Manly, a founding member of the Adult Numeracy Network (ANN), GED math exam item writer, representative on the international Programme for Intermational Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), numeracy advocate, and researcher in mathematics and assessment.  According to Lynda Ginsburg, “While so many in adult basic education focus on issues of literacy, Myrna Manly has made a profound contribution in raising the awareness of the importance of numeracy for adults, whether it be as they function in everyday life, as they prepare for and/or attempt to advance in the workplace, as they study for the GED math test or as they prepare to enter and succeed in community college or academic study.” 

This week on the Math and Numeracy Group:

Monday – Opening Tribute

Tuesday and Wednesday – Discuss Myrna’s article, “Algebraic Thinking in Education”, how does this paper impact your classroom instruction?

Thursday – Discuss Myrna’s contributions to assessment (GED and PIACC)

Friday – Discuss, “The Components of Numeracy,” what is the difference between Procedural and Conceptual Knowledge

The Adult Numeracy Network will be honoring Myrna Manly during the Pre-Conference Event at COABE.  The following link is an excerpt from the ANN’s Newsletter, The Math Practitioner (click here); this was Myrna’s last interview. Please share how Myrna or her work has impacted you here and pay tribute to a math matriarch.   

Brooke Istas
LINCS Subject Matter Expert
Math and Numeracy Group


A few years ago, Myrna Manly and Lynda Ginsberg came to my state to present a full-day workshop on Algebraic Thinking.  Myrna had a way of asking you a question that really made you think in a new way – and not just about math.  When I arrived at the session for the day, she shook my hand and asked me about myself.  She asked me why I loved teaching GED Preparation classes.  It was the first time I put into words how I love the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life in such a short amount of time, how I love sharing those ‘ah-ha’ moments, and how I love helping people on their way back up rather on their way down.  Ever since then, I’ve found ways to stay in Adult Education rather than return to Special Education when my own kids started school.

After the session that day, I was invited out with our presenters and some staff from our state’s professional development organization.  Over drinks, Myrna’s gentle, pointed questions caused me to respond by telling her my own struggles with math – something I’d never shared with any one in my profession.  Her response was more fascinated than judgmental.  Over the course of the night, she asked me many questions about what I do in my classroom and encouraged me to present some of my lesson ideas at a conference.  At the time, it felt like an idea out of my reach, but one year later, I got up my courage to volunteer to present at our state conference.

I am grateful to Myrna for her inspiring presence and her contributions to my growth as a math teacher.

I really like your post, thank you for sharing.  This is exactly how I remember Myrna.  Like you, I meet Myrna at a State Conference on GED Math and on a break she spoke to me in a "researcher" type of way  She examined my answers inquiring and probing deeper but not in an intrusive way.  She was as you said, fascinated by what I had to say and I was fascinated by her questions to me.  She caused me to think about why I teach mathematics, too, and why I enjoy it so much.  

I remember her sitting next to me in a math presentation at COABE in Chicago.  I was honored that someone of her stature would sit next to me. She would ask me what I thought about what I was being told and wanted to hear what my thoughts were...never judging but always inquiring.  Like you, she pushed me to present at conferences and trainings.  She also said that we should always be willing to try something different to see what would happen in our classrooms.  Since then, I am the instructor known for having the unorthodox classes were we use Barbie to discuss ration and proportions as well as peel potatoes, stuff envelopes, and roll pennies!  Students learn the conceptual side of mathematics and my classes learn that math can be fun!

I am forever changed by Myrna!  She taught me that being the "talking head" at the front of the class teaching procedure isn't the most effective educational tool I have in my toolbox.  She taught me to never be afraid to try something new in class then DISCUSS it and tell others about it! But the most important thing she taught me was to always ask how someone else sees the picture and then try to see it as they do!

Thank you for sharing...I hope others will share, too!


I met Myrna when she came to Nebraska many years ago. Math was not my favorite subject in school, but I loved teaching it  in ABE/GED. However, I was frustrated with teaching fractions because so much time was spent learning and relearning. Seldom had any of my struggling math students been able to advance without first being stuck back in fraction review.

Myrna changed my whole outlook on teaching math. No longer were fractions the starting point but cooperative and hands on learning with whole numbers in geometry and algebra. My students were thrilled that they were understanding and working on a coordinate grid, angles and equations. Fractions were delegated to chapter 15 of her book where even there we were treated to logical concepts of estimation instead of algorithms.

When we have new student orientation, we do interview questions with a partner to get to know each other better. My answer to the question of "Who would you like to be for one day?" is Myrna Manly! Then I get to explain why I'm still so excited about teaching math! Thanks, Myrna!

Sue P

NECC AE/GED Instructor


It was nineteen years ago this month that a group of practitioners met in Arlington, Virginia at the "First Conference on Adult Mathematical Literacy".  This is where I first met Myrna Manly. Out of that meeting came many math initiatives, including the Adult Numeracy Network (first known as the Adult Numeracy Practitioners Network).  Myrna was always one of the leading lights of that group.

Many people know Myrna for her international work on assessment, her conference presentations and her books.  She also made great changes in numeracy instruction and assessment when she was the editor of the "new" math portion of the GED.  This exam was ground breaking, and her work led to her later publications The Math Problem Solver and The GED Math Problem Solver.   Myrna once told me how it came about that she wrote the GED math test in its then new form. (I forget which year that was implemented).  It seems that when she agreed to be the editor of the math section of the test, she was told that calculators would be used by test-takers.  She realized that the assessment items therefore needed to be written so that a test-taker’s reasoning strategies and problem-solving skills should be assessed, rather than earlier tests that measured only computational skills.  So, she said that she wrote test items so that the answers (and distractors) would indicate whether or not the test taker had reasoned and chosen an appropriate problem-solving strategy and resulting operation.  After all, with calculator use, the assessment was not meant to be whether or not a person could add, but whether or not a person could decide which operation to use in solving a problem.

As it turned out, the GED Testing Service was introducing the essay portion of the GED in that year, so the plan to include calculator use on the math test was postponed until a later version of the test was written.  Still, Myrna went ahead with her approach, and this truly revolutionized math instruction in adult basic education.  She provided a pathway out of “instruction” that relied on computational workbooks toward using problems encountered in everyday life as the subject of numeracy instruction.

Myrna was beautiful, inspirational, warm, friendly, funny, and extremely competent.  She will be sorely missed.

Susan Cowles



Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge about some of the behind the scenes work that it took to move the field to think about new ways to teach and assess math and learning.  I am learning a good deal about the kind of thoughtful and thought provoking person Myrna was from the comments here, materials she wrote, and legacy she left.


    A math teacher and I are going to re-work our "transitions" level math course, which is the course you take if you scored poorly on the COMPASS *and* a separate pencil and paper 10-problem computation review.  The previous curriculum used ALEKS software, which is entirely procedural, and the success rate of students in the next level math was abysmal.  

    Page 8 of the Algebraic Thinking article describes how even when we're learning number sense andfacts, we can introduce the idea of a variable as a "missing number" and I'm thinking that this will work really well with the "parts and wholes" concepts that Dorothea Steinke researched and described (link to the page linking to thepdf is here ).   If you're putting things together and getting the whole, you're going to be doing the adding or multiplying; if you already know the whole thing then you have a 4 + x = 12 situation or a 3 m = 12 situation ... and boy-oh-boy, getting students extra practice at the idea that "if they're next to each other, it means multiply"  appeals to me :) (I've got a very industrious student in today who still wanted to subtract the coefficient, tho' I *think* we've got the motor memory in there today for underlining and dividing...) 

     We're planning on working hard to make the connections between the procedures and the concepts and why they work when... with lots of practical practice (like understanding that 5.25 hours is 5 hours and 15 minutes in terms of ratios... that 3 minutes and 45 seconds translates into 3.75 in that rate problem...)   this seems consistent with the page eleven ideas that even when the assessments are very,v ery procedural that students will perform better on them if they've been taught conceptually.   

    And now it's back to that narrated powerpoint introduction to the course...

As many of you know, I worked very closely with Myrna for many years. We wrote papers together, created and delivered professional development workshops together, and along the way, became great friends. In 2009, I nominated Myrna for COABE's Mattran Award. She recieved the award and gave a great speech, known forever among many as the "Literacy AND Numeracy" speech. Below, are excepts from the nomination document I wrote then (so it's in present tense):

"While so many in adult basic education focus on issues of literacy, Myrna Manly has made a profound contribution in raising the awareness of the importance of numeracy for adults, whether it be as they function in everyday life, as they prepare for and/or attempt to advance in the workplace, as they study for the GED math test, or as they prepare to enter and succeed in community college certificate or academic study. Over her career, Myrna has contributed to our understanding of the mathematical demands of each of these adult goals but also has involved herself in helping adult educators improve the ways they teach math and has developed highly regarded curriculum materials that focus on developing reasoning skills and helping learners make sense of the mathematics they study.

Beginning her career as a math teacher in the U.S. Department of Defense international schools, she became more and more committed to adult math learning. She was the Mathematics Test Specialist responsible for the math test of the 1987 version of the GED battery. She was a professor of mathematics at El Camino College and developed successful experimental pre-Algebra and Algebra courses designed to increase retention rates of at-risk students. Her work with the GED Testing Service and in Developmental Math greatly informs her work with ABE/GED instructors. Her experience successfully teaching math for many years informs her understanding of how adults can and do learn math and the kinds of instructional practices that are most effective.

She is a founding member, past president and current secretary of the Adult Numeracy Network. She has created and implemented innovative professional development programs in math education for adult educators, for example, "GED as Project: Math" in Virginia. Her books, "The GED Math Problem Solver" and "The Math Problem Solver," with accompanying teacher guides, promote teaching and learning math with reasoning and sense-making. She has written Focus on Basics articles and respected research papers. With degrees in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, she taught adults and created successful experimental Pre-Algebra and Algebra courses designed to increase retention rates of at-risk students.

Myrna's gentle demeanor, her depth of knowledge of mathematics as well as pedagogical knowledge about teaching math, her rich experience as an educator as well as an assessment specialist, and her clear writing and communication all inspire others to be more thoughtful teachers and learners of math. The fact that she is in high demand internationally to work with national teams to adapt items and scoring to cultural norms suggests that she inspires confidence far beyond our borders.

I first met Myrna Manly 24 years ago. She was flown out to Maine to lead a training for the new GED that was coming out in 1988. Judy Storer and myself were selected from the Maine State Adult Ed conference to meet with Myrna as we were going to take her training and bring it to practitioners in the state. As many others have said, she was so open to sharing and helping us. She actually turned us upside down in our thinking about how math should be taught. Integrating algebra and geometry along with addition and subtraction, surely was a new way of thinking. I remember she was thinking about writing her first book, The GED Math Problem Solver, and shared her outline with Judy and I. She was genuinely interested in what we thought. Years passed and the next time I worked with Myrna was at the 1995 Numeracy summit in Washington,  DC. That is where ANN was born and I remember after the two day meeting we had to choose what committee interested us. Turns out Myrna and I were in the same group. I marveled at her eloquent ways of looking deeply into things.  From there on I was hooked and became one of the first reps for ANN.  Through the years I have had the good fortune of working on many committees with Myrna and always when Myrna spoke, people listened.  I think I feel the luckiest when Myrna "vetted" me to become the next president-elect. I was scared to death but she held my hand and coaxed me along the way.  That's Myrna's way, always pushing the practitioner forward, to new challenges, gently guiding us to the visions she already imagined.  The last time I had time to spend with Myrna was at COABE in San Francisco.  She escorted me into the opening ceremonies, introducing me to important people. I felt like I was with a rock star as everyone, and I do mean everyone, knew Myrna and came up to greet her.  She had just received word that her cancer had spread but that didn't stop her from continuuing her work in numeracy and her constant committment to support practitioners, like myself, in the field of numeracy. A day doesn't go by that I think of Myrna and I miss her terribly.  We are so fortunate for her work in the field of adult numeracy and to honor her memory, each of us must keep pushing that work forward.

I was fortunate to meet Myrna in 1998 in Halifax, Canada at the first meeting of the numeracy expert group for what became the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALLS), and this was the start of a long and close professional and personal friendship, even if over a long distance from where I am based in Australia. This continued until September last year when she was giving me her usual thoughtful and insightful feedback about some adult numeracy assessment work we were doing for ETS.  

During this time we worked together not only on ALLS and then PIAAC, but we wrote papers and presented together, collaborated and shared our ideas, shared our writings and gave feedback to each other, always about the passion that we shared - adult numeracy. We were often suprised how much we thought alike on that issue - both the challenges and the potential solutions. I always valued her wisdom and knowledge, and her insights to the world of math for adults. But as others have said, it was also her warmth and her generous spirit that made Myrna so special.

Through this work, we ended up spending many hours socialising and sharing stories together. Jim and Myrna hosted the ALLS team at their hosue in LA, and so I also met Jim too and heard the many stories about his plane and his cars. So I have many fond memories of my times with Myrna. For example, I remember sharing my 50th birthday celebrations with Myrna and Lynda Ginsburg in Tokyo of all places - a very unique and special occasion. Then my partner and I stayed with Myrna and Jim in Reno - and some wonderful evenings were spent there talking about all world of things, with some great and rich conversations, not all about adult numeracy either.

Then there was her ability to cope with, fight and continue working positively through her bouts of illness - and still contributing to the adult numeracy field and sharing her knowledge and wisdom. She was amazingly strong and reslilent.

The rich and wonderful experiences Myrna and I had together in the days since 1998 will forever stay with me, and her unique contributions to adult numeracy education will also remain valued and her influences continue to be significant to not only the education sector in the US but also to education in other countries..

You are so right, David. I have been fortunate to be involved in many events and debriefings on the forthcoming PIAAC report. In November, just after her passing, we had a meeting that went into detail on the processes and different assessment teams shared their work. Myrna, of course, was the U.S. lead on the numeracy assessment. We celebrated her leadership and vision at the time and it will indeed continue to yield positive impacts for adult learners as the PIAAC reports are released in October and use of the rich dataset, constructed so thoughtfully, yields more insights into the future. Thank you, Myrna!

Heidi, OVAE team

Today is the last day of this beautiful week-long  tribute to Myrna – which has been such a pleasure to read. While the acknowledgement will continue at the annual Adult Numeracy Network Meeting in a few days, the true tribute is that her work and ideas continue to be reflected in adult ed classrooms across the country - in the work of teachers passionate about listening to their students’ mathematical understandings and creating opportunities to deepen those understandings; in the satisfaction students get from chewing on the interesting problems she poses in the Math Problem Solver; in teachers who, because of her suggestion and example, step forward to share with others at conferences and workshops; and in curricula and assessments that attempt to teach and measure what she called the “honest list” –the math that adults really need to be able to manage the demands contemporary life.  When in doubt about what math to teach, how to teach it, and how to share with other teachers, I think it would be helpful to ask ourselves, W.W.M.D?


She was a personal friend, mentor, professional colleague, and co-conspirator at cooking up ways to rethink and reform math teaching and learning for adults. My memories of her are work and play intertwined  … walking around a lake discussing the importance of proportional reasoning to everyday life… lounging by her pool comparing the volumes formed by making a tubes with an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper… Myrna was always thinking… words cannot express how grateful I am to have known her.

Thank you to everyone who posted their thoughts and memories of Myrna!  I am on my way to the COABE conference in New Orleans today and I will be discussing this tribute tomorrow during the ANN Pre-Conference Session.  Mary Jane, I LOVED your W.W.M.D!!  I am going to mention that tomorrow because it is a perfect way to always remember Myrna Manly and what she has done and will continue to do through those she influenced in numeracy education!  Thanks again to all those who shared and if anyone else would like to post please continue to do so.

I look forward to seeing a few of my mathletes tomorrow!


Brooke Istas
Subject Matter Expert
LINCS Math and Numeracy

     I was at the Making Math Real 2 Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. It was my first professional development in the western part of my state. I was sitting next to someone who had such a gentle spirit, yet quite a remarkable understanding of all the math topics we were learning about. Next thing I knew, she was presenting! She taught us a great hands-on geometry lesson with just a piece of construction paper. I was proud when I realized that she was Myrna Manley. When I first sat next to her that day, I had no idea how prominent she was in the field of adult numeracy.  Here, I had been using her Math Problem Solver book to teach my GED students, and now I had had not only the privilege of meeting Myrna, but sitting with her and enjoying all the math activities with her.

     Since then, I have gotten to see Myrna at other adult numeracy events.  I became Co-Representative (with my colleague, Barbara Tyndall) of the ANN Mid-Atlantic Region.         Myrna was an inspiring leader. I believe she was ANN president or immediate past president the year the ANN Board met in Arlington, Virginia. I always enjoyed her presentations – at Making Math Real, at ANN, and at the 2006 GED Training in Washington, D.C.

     I always have and still feel privileged to have known and worked with Myrna as I continued to improve my own adult numeracy instruction.                              

                                                                                                                                                                                                        ˜ Margaret T. Giordano