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             11 West Virginia counties dump integrated math 6/18/2015

Cabell board weighs Common Core math

Jun. 18, 2015 @ 12:01 AM

HUNTINGTON -Navigating the debate about Common Core standards in West Virginia hasn't been as easy as one-two-three for parents, teachers, legislators and district officials.

The debate continued for Cabell County Board of Education members, Cabell County Schools officials and members of the public during the regular board of education meeting Tuesday.

School officials, board members and teachers talked about what they felt were deficiencies in the curriculum and the lack of data indicating whether the new curriculum has proven beneficial or harmful to student achievement.

The matter on the board's agenda specifically was geared toward the integrated high school math course curriculum that was implemented along with the Next Generation Content Standards, West Virginia's version of Common Core.

The conversation developed in Cabell County about a week after it was announced during a West Virginia Board of Education meeting that 11 county school districts had completed waivers to opt out of the new integrated course curriculum in favor of returning to the traditional math course curriculum.

Cabell County officials did not submit a waiver, opting to stick with the integrated courses, but district officials included the matter on the agenda as a point of conversation and information on Tuesday.

"We did not seek a waiver because we felt like what we were already doing was really proving to be doing what it should be," said Dr. Jeff Smith, assistant superintendent of school improvement. "We've already invested a great deal of time and effort as well as invested our teachers in that training in getting them prepared to teach these math courses more than three years ago when we started doing training. In addition, they're going to be assessed upon those math content standards based upon the math courses we're currently doing."

Data presented to the state Board of Education last week showed Brooke, Calhoun, Greenbrier, Hardy, Harrison, Kanawha, Mason, Morgan, Pendleton, Putnam and Ritchie counties plan to revert to the traditional structure in the 2015-2016 school year.

The traditional structure, which predates national Common Core standards, focused on individual math subjects Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and Trigonometry. The integrated structure combines algebra, geometry and other math subjects in courses called Math I, Math II, Math III and Math IV, in an effort to meet the standards set through Common Core.

The Math I, Math II, Math III and Math IV courses still contain the same learning concepts as the traditional math course trajectory, but the math concepts are grouped in a different way, Cabell County Curriculum Supervisor Lenora Richardson said last week.

In Cabell County, the rising senior class of 2016 is set to be the first group of students to have taken all of their high school math classes as a part of the new integrated curriculum.

During Tuesday's meeting, three math teachers, two from Huntington High School and one from Cabell Midland High School, talked during the meeting about their experiences teaching the integrated courses.

"I would like to say I'm in favor of going back to the traditional," said Teresa Fyffe, a math teacher at Huntington High School with more than 30 years teaching experience. "I think this path we're on now, they don't get nearly enough geometry."

In addition to teaching at Huntington, Fyffe said she worked with Kaplan helping prepare students for the ACT and SAT.

"I know there's lots of geometry on those two tests in particular," Fyffe said. "I feel like if our test scores haven't already gone down, they will go down because they're note getting near enough geometry in this Math I, II, III, IV. I know we've invested time and money in this program, but I think it would benefit our students much more if we could go back to the traditional."

Karen Curnutte, another math teacher from Huntington also said she was wary of the integrated courses.

"We're just very concerned about our curriculum, the direction it's taken," Curnutte said. "It's very hard on new teachers, and we get a lot of subs, jobs we can't fill. We're having a really hard time filling our math positions, and with other neighboring counties going back, we see that could hurt us with attracting teachers."

Dr. Smith said his data showed that this year's ACT scores were slightly higher than last year and higher than the state average. Board member Karen Nance said she felt that there hadn't been enough time for enough students to have taken the test after completing the integrated courses.

"I want to do some more research on this because I'm still out on how I feel about it," Nance said. "I've heard a lot of complaints. I'm trying to figure out where they're coming from, and I want to do some research and see what's going on."

The board did not take any action in the matter, but they collectively requested bits of information to help them better understand the situation.

Among the information they requested was how far the 11 counties that sought waivers were into implementing the integrated curriculum. They also requested that the district poll teachers to hear their thoughts about the matter.

The deadline for the district to opt out of the integrated curriculum for the 2015-2016 school year has passed, but board member Rhonda Smalley requested the matter be put on the agenda for the next regular board meeting for further discussion.