PA Coalition for World Class Math

       Montgomery Co. parents concerned about pacing of new math curriculum (6/20/2012)

School board addresses parents’ concerns about pacing of new math curriculum

Some feel needs of advanced students have been ‘abandoned’

In a school system in which excelling in math has come to mean skipping a grade level or two, members of the Montgomery County Board of Education say some parents are having a hard time accepting that their students will do anything less.

As Montgomery County Public Schools’ new curriculum, Curriculum 2.0, is rolling out in elementary schools, parents are concerned their students will not be given the opportunity to accelerate through math courses, school board members told school officials Thursday.

Under Curriculum 2.0, students who are ready for more advanced math concepts still will be accelerated, but they will do so in a grade-level classroom with students of all abilities; few will jump into a higher grade in elementary school, according to Erick Lang, the school system’s Associate Superintendent of the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs.

The curriculum, devised under the Common Core State Standards, reduces the number of concepts students must master, allowing them to go deeper into each. It will be up to teachers to differentiate learning within classrooms, splitting students into small groups for more than half of the instruction time and assigning different tasks to groups based on how well the students understand the concept.

The curriculum already has been implemented in kindergarten and first grade, and will move into second and third grade next school year; this year, all but 20 county schools voluntarily implemented it in second grade.

The switch should correct what school officials are calling over-acceleration. Within the past decade, students have been pushed too quickly into higher levels of math, causing students to skip through concepts and have gaps in knowledge when reaching high school, according to a 2010 work group study.

Last school year, more than half of the county’s fifth grade students — or about 53.5 percent of about 10,400 students — were taking sixth-grade math or higher, according to schools spokesman Dana Tofig.

The new curriculum switches the culture that has been created in the county, said Board Vice President Christopher Barclay (Dist. 4).

“I think there is a sense from some parents that we have abandoned the responsibility we have for young people who should and can accelerate,” said Barclay of Takoma Park.

Student achievement should be measured not by the fact that the student is a grade level ahead, but at the work that they are doing, said board member Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3).

In Montgomery County, “parents wear their kids achievements on their sleeves like they wear medals of honor,” she said “… I do believe there will be pushback.”

The schools will need to communicate the change to parents or continue to fight, Barclay said.

School officials attempted to clear up a few misconceptions Thursday.

Although some parents might fear the pace of learning is too slow for their child, the pace actually should quicken because students would master concepts as they go. While students now take Algebra 1 in freshman year when they follow a non-accelerated path, the new curriculum should get more students prepared for Algebra 1 by eighth grade, Lang said.

Because of this, the school system expects more students will take Calculus before graduating, Lang said.

Also, students who are ready for Geometry in eighth grade still will have the chance to take it, he said.

Westbrook Elementary School Principal Rebecca Jones hosted a “parents’ coffee” this year to explain the theory behind the curriculum.

Jones told school board members that it is difficult for parents to embrace the change, when they feel it is harder for them to know if their child is being challenged.

“One of the hardest things for parents has been having something to hang their hats on,” she said.

At the meeting, Jones had teachers give lessons to parents, so that they could see the differentiation that occurs, she said.

School officials are working to finalize information about the different path that students can take in math depending on their abilities, Lang said; a model should be available in the fall.