PA Coalition for World Class Math

State College Dumps Investigations Math


New math plan comes to fruition

Jul 22, 2011 

State College Area elementary students will have a new main math program this fall.

The change is more than two years in the making.

“Now comes the real hard work. We have to implement a new math program,” said Radio Park Elementary School Principal Deirdre Bauer, who served on a committee that reviewed curriculums. “But it’s also very exciting.”

The State College Area school board earlier this month approved purchasing the materials for the new program, Math Expressions, which educators have described as having a more balanced approach than the previous curriculum, Investigations in Number, Data and Space.

“The community group really wanted to have a (program) that would be able to maintain some of the conceptual strengths of Investigations but also provide some more direct instruction,” Bauer said.

In May 2009, parents unhappy with Investigations created an online petition and urged board members not to purchase the second edition of the program. They argued it didn’t provide enough rigor and wouldn’t prepare students for later grades.

The board was split, and members voted 6 -3 to purchase the second edition.

A year later, the district created a committee, with about 40 members, to review district math programs with the goal of piloting some new ones in 2010-11. Facilitator Mark Dietz said the committee met 12 times, edited 140 online documents and exchanged more than 1,000 electronic communications before recommending the district pilot three math programs this winter and spring: Math Expressions, enVision math and the second edition of Investigations.

Bauer and two other administrators presented the results of the pilot program to the school board on May 23.

Teachers reviewing materials ranked Math Expressions highest, because it aligned most closely with the K-12 Common Core Standards adopted by more than 40 states. Teachers who taught two units of the programs ranked enVision math the lowest, and Math Expressions and Investigations almost evenly. For student performance on assessments, Investigations ranked highest overall, but performance varied by grade level. Results from parent surveys were similar for all programs.

“It was really difficult to see a program strongly emerge,” Marybeth Irvin, district director of curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade, told the board. She noted, however, that “enVision was rated weakest overall.”

Bauer said the committee recommended Math Expressions, in part, because of its alignment with the Common Core Standards and because community members asked for a balanced approach.

Irvin described Math Expressions as the district’s new “core resource,” saying it won’t be the entire math curriculum. Teachers will supplement it with other materials as needed.

Teacher and parent Sheila Abruzzo, who served on review committees, called both Investigations and Math Expressions “adequate” and suggested more time to study the issue.

“I think we need an excellent program,” she told the board.

Parents Barb Schaefer and Steve Piazza, both early critics of Investigations who served on the committee, spoke in support of Math Expressions.

“I think what we’re hearing is people .... damning this curriculum with faint praise,” Piazza said, adding that he believes Math Expressions stood out among the three choices.

The board unanimously endorsed the program in May.

“I have watched you guys work through this amazing amount of material over the past year or more. ... and wonder if you can ever pull this all together,” Vice President Jim Pawelczyk said to Bauer, Irvin and Director of Education Pam Francis. “And you did it in grand style. This is a very comprehensive report. ... So, excellent job.”

Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.