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                 Fulton (GA) to Bring Back Traditional Math Under Pressure (Milton Herald)


Fulton (GA) to bring back traditional math under pressure (Milton Herald)

By Candy Waylock

March 24, 2008
FULTON COUNTY -- It's not quite the white flag of surrender, but changes to the math curriculum are headed your way after months of criticism from parents.

Results from the math audit are expected this month, but school administrators are already proposing changes to next year's curriculum based on early findings.

Last month School Superintendent James Wilson outlined a math approach to the Fulton Board of Education that mirrors the Gwinnett School System, and focuses more on a traditional approach to math.

The Fulton School System has been heavily criticized by parents for how it has implemented the new state math standards with its focus on investigation of math concepts instead of directly teaching formulas and equations.

"As a result of the discussions with [our auditors] regarding their preliminary findings, the Curriculum Department would like to propose to the Board a more balanced (hybrid) mathematical approach in delivering the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS)," wrote Wilson.

He recommended the changes be implemented this August for the 2008-2009 school year.

Exactly how this "balanced" approach would be implemented is still up in the air, but would likely align more closely with traditional math, with the current resources and textbooks used more as supplements.

Textbooks now being used in kindergarten through eighth grade have taken the brunt of criticism for their "fuzzy" approach to teaching math. Parents complained of a "language arts" approach to math, with an emphasis on writing sentences and grammar instead of getting the right answers.

Though a final plan is still being formulated, indications are textbooks currently used in middle school – a Connected Math series – will be replaced next year with a more traditional math book.

In elementary school students will learn from the Georgia Math Book, with the current Investigations textbooks and materials used as supplements only.

The Fulton School Board will likely revisit the math textbook decision it made last year and perhaps opt for its second choice – which aligns more closely with traditional math.

Parents and teachers strongly support the higher math standards developed by the state, with its emphasis on rigor and more in-depth learning.

The criticism appeared to be the way Fulton Schools chose to meet the standards. Few school systems across the state are using the textbooks that Fulton chose for this year in grades K-8.

Alpharetta school board member Katie Reeves noted Gwinnett piloted the same textbook series currently in place in Fulton, but dropped them just weeks later.

The GPS math will roll out to high school next year. The concern is textbooks have not been ordered, nor has a curriculum been adopted for rising ninth grade students.

School officials note only rising ninth graders will be in the GPS curriculum, so new textbooks will only need to be ordered for that grade level. Current high school students in grades 9-12 will finish high school under the old curriculum.

Perhaps the loudest voices against the new math came from parents of advanced students who complained their children were not able to move through the units at an accelerated pace, but were instead given more work to "spiral down" into the curriculum instead of moving ahead.

One parent of a previously home-schooled child said it made no sense to give advanced students more "busy" work when the child has already mastered the concepts and needed to move on.

Reeves said she is encouraged by Fulton's direction towards a balanced approach.

"What I like about Gwinnett's approach is they used the state standards as a starting point and [still incorporated] the traditional format," said Reeves. "What they ended up with was an enhanced Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry that covered the state standards."

Reeves said the system will not offer a dual track in high school, which had been proposed, with some students on the "new" math and others in traditional – because of the problems with implementation and staffing. However, she says the balanced approach should address many of the concerns parents have with the current curriculum.

Any gaps in curriculum could be addressed through on-line courses, summer school and other resources offered for students, suggested Reeves.

Wilson, along with members of Strategic Teaching, the audit firm, met last month with mathematics personnel in Gwinnett County to learn more about the "Gwinnett Model" for math.

"Once [this model] has been analyzed and matched to our current curriculum, we would like to begin the work of creating a more hybrid approach to teaching GPS - what resources are being used to teach GPS, and how the additional content in GPS is woven into the more traditionally taught standards curriculum, " said Wilson.

Wilson said the change in how GPS will be taught in the future is a move forward for the school system.

"It will result in teaching our students to the highest level of academic achievement in mathematics, as well as provide advancement and acceleration for those students requiring additional challenge. These changes should address the concerns expressed by some of our system's parents."

Tammy Lucas of Georgia Parents for Math ( said she is gratified Fulton Schools is listening to parents, but is concerned with valuable time lost in the transition.

"While Fulton County deserves credit for listening to their parents and taxpayers, we will have to watch to see how well they can identify the root cause of the decline in test scores and implement the necessary changes," said Lucas. "The goal should be preparation for college math classes, not minimum skills required to graduate from high school."


Plan for math coaches fades away

A decision by the Fulton County Board of Education to hire two math coaches for each high school cluster apparently looked better on the drawing board than in reality.

The board approved the $800,000 budget expenditure in December to hire 24 math coaches and hoped to have those personnel in place for the second semester.

But after an area-wide posting for the position, a grand total of three people actually applied for the job – two current math teachers and one applicant described only as a "habitual" job seeker for Fulton Schools.

The board had previously decided current math teachers would not be removed from the classroom to fill the math coach positions.

The issue has quietly died, with no one expecting the program to be in place any time soon.

As far as the budgeted amount – Alpharetta board member Katie Reeves (who voted against math coaches in the first place) hopes the money can be used for continued staff development on the new math standards, or other programs to support math.

Has 'new' math raised scores?

Apparently not, if ITBS test scores over a three-year period are any indication.

Comparing the math test scores for current eighth graders to the test these students took three years ago as fifth graders, shows a marked decrease in math scores.

Fulton School staff noted test scores for students in the former curriculum under traditional math had a five-point drop from fifth to eighth grade on the ITBS math tests. In contrast, students in the new curriculum – the Georgia Performance Standards – using reform/integrated math saw a 10-point drop in math scores from fifth to eighth grade.

To ensure the analysis was an accurate reflection of performance, staff members only compared students who were tested in Fulton County schools in both fifth to eighth grade.

An interesting anomaly is that test scores in math did rise for some students – those students designated as Limited English Proficient (LEP) and in Special Education classes. School officials note the rise in test scores could be linked to smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction.