Parents filled the high school library on Monday night to present their concerns about the program to the school board.
The Riverview School Board meeting on Monday had the largest attendance in years, according to school board members. Parents filled the high school library, and in a citizen comment session that lasted two hours, they discussed their concerns about the middle school Connected Mathematics 2 program.
According to the Pearson Prentice Hall website, Connected Math 2 is a National Science Foundation-funded middle school program—for children in grades 6 to 8—that "provides students with an investigative approach to learning mathematics." The program also puts an emphasis on interactive problems and using everyday situations to teach math concepts.
Riverview School District just completed its first year using Connected Math 2.
Among the parents' concerns were the group work involved, the participation aspect of the class, the frequency of testing and the combination of students at different math levels in the same classroom.
Parent Joseph Knapp said his son struggled in the class because of the way it was structured.
"I, unfortunately, found the Connected Math program to be an unorthodox way of teaching students," he said. "It seemed like the students taught themselves, in theory.
"They have groups where they figure out problems and are encouraged to come up with the ideas on their own. I thought that was ridiculous. In sixth and seventh grades, you need instruction."
Parent Tim Lazor said his son usually did very well in math class until he took the class this year. Lazor said he doesn't think the program has the support of the students or the teachers who are teaching it.
"I don't think the teachers bought into this," he said. "That's a critical component.
"I don't mind change. I like change as long as all hands are on deck."
Superintendent Charles Erdeljac said district officials had been looking for a way to improve the math curriculum for about eight years. He said to participate in the Math and Science Partnership of Southwest Pennsylvania, the district would have to implement Connected Math 2 or MathScape—the only two programs with the National Science Foundation's "stamp of approval."
When asked by parents about Pennsylvania System of School Assessment Scores, principal Jay Moser said the scores of last school year's seventh graders dropped by 9 percent, according to primary figures from the state department of education.
However, Lynn Black, the district's director of student achievement, said the sixth grade scores significantly increased. Black said she couldn't attribute the score changes to the class.
Lazor said the dip in seventh grade is unacceptable.
Erdeljac said officials had been warned that scores might drop during the initial year of the program's implementation.
"We're not happy about that, but we were cautioned about that," he said. "I shared that with our math teachers back in August. I wanted them to know we were going to kill ourselves implementing this program, but despite that, we might not see immediate results.
"Changing to improve the curriculum is like trying to renovate a submarine while it's out to sea."
Teachers also have to be on board with the new concept for it to work effectively, said Parent Dan Rafferty.
"If you have some sort of buy in, you have to work on that," he said. "You have to have that structure to a science."
Erdeljac said district officials are going to continue to monitor the program and data associated with it to ensure it is a good fit for students.
"On the one hand, we have to have fidelity to the program as it's intended to be taught, but on the other hand, we're Riverview," he said. "We need to find out how this program can be most successful here at Riverview…we're still in the process of making this program Riverview's Connected Math program."
The curriculum will be tweaked to address some concerns next year, Black said.
In the meantime, parent Robin Lazor asked if the board would consider funding extra programs to help students affected by the transition period.
"This program might be the best thing since sliced bread, but unfortunately, my son isn't going to benefit from that because he's one of the kids who is falling between the cracks as you work out the kinks," she said.
Board member Heidi Dolan, whose child is taking Connected Math, thanked the parents for voicing their opinions and encouraged them to stay involved.
Board member Lisa Ashbaugh, whose child also is in taking Connected Math, said she thinks everything will work out for the best.
"I do believe in this program and I do believe that we can make this work," she said. "This is the future of education as it pertains to math."