Monday, June 10, 2013

2012-2013 Year in Review: Elementary Math (with focus on 3rd grade) -- What Will Happen Next Year?

With data showing that the 3rd grade Math Compacting Experiment was not successful this year, the biggest question is:  What about next year?  Our last blog posting ended with the following question that we hope the administration answers:

How will they make the current 3rd graders whole?  

In other words, not all 3rd graders completed the same amount of math this year.  Where will they each start next year?  With the 4th grade curriculum or 5th grade curriculum?  How will the 4th grade teachers know what the needs and math level of each student are on the first day of school? 

The administration has sent out a letter to parents of next year's incoming 4th graders that states:

"This fall, students will begin the year by finishing fourth grade skills and then transition into the fifth grade curriculum for the remainder of the school year. The District will use the current Everyday Math materials combined with the 2012 Everyday Math Common Core Update. These materials will help align instruction to the New Illinois Learning Standards. Teachers will use pre-assessments developed by Everyday Math and flexibly group students to best meet individual needs. Pre-assessments will occur at the beginning of each unit and be used to create instructional groups. These groups will allow teachers to differentiate their instruction based on student needs, providing focused enrichment and enhancement opportunities."

This sounds almost identical to what happened this year - except that perhaps teachers will no longer have to come up with their own curriculum materials.  But what is not addressed is how will teachers know where to start with each student at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year?  How will they ensure that at the end of 5th grade everyone will end on the same page?  How will the administration ensure that each school is acting in a consistent manner -- in pre and post assessments, materials used and the way "flexible groups" are created throughout the school year.

And what about next year's 3rd graders?

The ALP plan calls for a continuation of a compacted math curriculum for 3rd grade.  In addition, the District's curriculum renewal cycle and the implementation of the Common Core Standards require that a new math text book be adopted by the 2014-2015 school year.  At the May 28 Board Meeting, the Administration presented the board with the names of 2 math text books that it planned to pilot next year in 3rd and 4th grade:  Investigations and Envision.  Everyday Math was ruled out.  

The original plan was to split both 3rd and 4th grades in half -- 1/2 of the schools would participate in a pilot with Envisions being the primary resource and Investigations the secondary resource.  The other half would use Investigations as the primary resource and Envisions as the secondary resource.  No data was presented to the Board that showed that either of these pilots had successfully been implemented in districts similar to D181.

The Board of Education was not asked to approve the pilots.  Dr. Schuster stated that this was not necessary, however, did acknowledge that the Board would later be asked to approve the $100,000 cost of the pilots' materials.  This seems counter-intuitive, since Board Policy 2:020 requires the Board to approve all major expenditures.  Why then didn't she think the Board should approve the substance of the expenditure and not just be asked to "rubber stamp" the cost at a future meeting?

Fortunately, a Board Member brought a motion to quash the pilots, after concerns were raised during the discussion. These concerns included:

1.  The MAP Math data was very troubling and without a better understanding of why the growth targets had not been achieved by more students, it might be a mistake to simply switch to a new math curriculum.

2.  Would the pilots create more inconsistency across the district?

3.  There was no control group against which to measure the effectiveness of the pilots.

4.  There did not seem to be a solid plan to provide sufficient teacher training on the new materials prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

The Board's voted 4 to 2 to quash the pilots.  Turek, Vorobiev, Garg and Heneghan voted to quash them.  Yaeger and Clarin voted against stopping the pilots.  Nelson was absent and did not vote.  We applaud the decision of the majority of the Board.

The Board's Action means that this fall, elementary math at all grades will continue to use
the Everyday Math program, along with the Common Core supplements that the publisher has created. But what other resources might be used?  Will the math resources be the same for all schools at each grade level and will teachers be teaching the program in a consistent fashion?  What training will teachers receive on the Common Core supplemental materials? What training will be offered to teachers in all grades, not just in 3rd grade, to ensure that the ALP Math program is implemented in a manner that will allow for teachers to successfully and consistently teach the curriculum across the district?

The district can ill-afford another year like last year, when the students did not participate in a well executed math program.  The teachers did their very best to implement the transition "vision" (we use this word loosely, since it seems to be a favorite of the administration).  However, there was only so much teachers could do without the proper planning, training, materials or support from the administration. Next year the administration has to guarantee that whatever is rolled out is not done in a chaotic, haphazard manner and that from the First Day of School, the math curriculum at all grades is complete, materials are ready, teachers have been trained on these materials and will continue to receive the necessary support as the year progresses. 

1 comment:

A Concerned Parent said...

What is really troubling is the fact that my child didn't get to use a professionally made textbook in math this year. Apparently the 3rd grade teachers were paid to "create" their own program, even though they are not qualified to do so. The materials were never approved by the BOE, or put on public display. Maybe teachers created their own programs 75 years ago, or still do so in 3rd world countries, but in this day and age? The below average test scores prove that these materials were not good, or even adequate. He could our superintendent and Janet Stutz have allowed this to happen?

One would think that a district like D181 could afford to buy updated textbooks, created and edited by professionals trained in making textbooks for kids. On this blog, you can see the huge raises given to certain administrators last year, so apparently we have the money. If parents had been told last year what the "pilot" was, we would have pitched in and bought the supplements, or some real books ourselves! Also, why weren't they updated since 2007? My taxes seem to get "updated" every year, and since 93% of my taxes go to the schools, why wasn't that money being spent on children? In the last 2 years, The Lane's PTO has spent $50,000 on iPads, apps and furniture for the library, but our kids didn't have math books? Monroe's PTO just spent $100,000 on iPads. Bizarre.

Also, where was the data that showed the new pilot books the committee chose were even better than what we had? No data, research, or evidence was in the report. Janet Stutz sounded like she had been reincarnated as a sales rep from Pearson Textbooks. The only data presented was given by a parent at the board meeting. It showed that the books chosen for the pilot were even WORSE than the ones they already had.

Stranger, was that at our school's curriculum night, the 3rd grade teachers told all of us that they were using Everyday Math materials. When I saw all the random, and homemade worksheets coming home in the fall, I called the teacher to ask if there was a reference book I could use to help my child with the homework (the assignment was not clear and had errors in it,). She told me it was from Everyday Math. But when I showed my child the book, he had never seen it. No Everyday Math worksheets even came home, until the last day of school ?? (along with the 3rd grader's MAP scores.) What is going on in our district? Who is supervising this mess?