Monday, June 10, 2013

2012-2013 Year in Review: Elementary Math -- with a focus on Third Grade -- The Transition Year Structure

We have already discussed the Middle School Math rapid acceleration plan that was rolled out in 2012-2013.  The next three posts will discuss the math changes that were implemented in Elementary School.
During the 2012-2013 school year, the district continued its plan to move toward implementation of the Common Core standards.  These standards call for more "depth" of study in math and language arts (and eventually social studies and science), rather than breadth of study. In the area of math, one of the Common Core Standards requires that over the next several years, most graduating 8th graders will have been exposed to algebra.  The Administration worked diligently to complete a gap analysis of the current math curriculum and identified areas that needed to be supplemented in order to meet the common core standards.  It also began committee work to identify what new math text books should be purchased that would teach the new math common core standards.

As this work was taking place, the transition plan approved in Spring 2012 required that in elementary, all 3rd graders would be taught "compacted" 3rd and 4th grade math.  The goal was for 3rd graders to complete the 4th grade Everyday Math curriculum.  Students were pre-tested before each 3rd grade unit, then if they scored high enough, or when they successfully completed the 3rd grade material (as evidenced by a post-test), they moved on to the 4th grade material.  Students were to participate in flexible groups that were taught at a different pace depending on how quickly students completed the compacted material. (A parent complaint this year was that if students actually completed the 4th grade material, they were then not exposed to the 5th grade materials.)

The purpose of this compacting was so that by the time these elementary students entered 6th grade, all of them would place into at least 7th grade Common Core Math and be advanced by one year or more in math. This would enable most to graduate from 8th grade having completed Algebra, and enroll in Geometry or Honors Geometry their freshman year of high school.

The current elementary math curriculum that has been taught in D181 for many years is the University of Chicago Everyday Math program.  Each grade has a text book and work book.  During 2012-2013, this curriculum continued to be taught in 4th and 5th grades, but in 3rd grade, the transition year "compacting plan" became a "pilot" of sorts that created many problems.  The Administration did not provide teachers with sufficient training, or a complete set of teaching materials needed to teach the compacted curriculum before the first day of school.  The compacted 3rd and 4th grade materials were given to the teachers as the year progressed, with the Administration providing them with multiple resources to select from (including the Everyday math materials), but also allowed teachers to identify and download resources/worksheets from the Internet.  Teachers were given flexibility in selecting which math materials to use.

This led to inconsistency across the district in the way 3rd grade math was taught.  It seemed that every school was teaching 3rd grade math somewhat differently.  Because teachers were given a "tool box" of materials to pick from, the actual math materials being used across the 3rd grades varied from school to school.  In some schools, students were identified for a math group based upon their first pre-test of the year, and then remained in that group for the rest of the year.  In other schools, the students were flexibly grouped at the beginning of each chapter.  This meant that students might have a different math teacher for each unit, depending on whether they moved to a different paced group based upon their pre-test performance.  Post tests were also implemented differently between schools.  In some, students were given a post test only once at the end of a unit to see if they had mastered the materials.  In other schools, students were allowed to take post-tests more than once.

The teachers did their very best to teach the compacted curriculum that had been mandated by the administration, but without appropriate or adequate training, consistent materials or support from the Administration, the transition year ended with negative results.  The next post will discuss what the performance data showed.

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