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Returning Back to Basics for Math

December 28, 2009

Fulton rings out new math for old math in 2010

by Candy Waylock

FULTON COUNTY, GA – It’s out with the new and in with the old for 2010 as the Fulton County School System prepares to dump the controversial math curriculum in favor of back-to-the-basics traditional math.

The Fulton County Board of Education is poised to vote next month to accept Supt. Cindy Loe’s recommendation to remove Investigations from grades kindergarten through five, and Connected Math in middle school beginning in the fall of 2010. In high school, state mandates prevent moving too far away from the course standards tied to the state’s End of the Course Tests (EOCTs), but options will be added to allow more flexibility and opportunities for advancement for students.

The goal, noted Loe, is to return to a teacher directed curriculum instead of the inquiry based model favored in Investigations and Connections, where the teacher serves as the facilitator.

“The reason we made changes in math is Georgia changed its curriculum several years ago from the old Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) to the new higher level Georgia Performance Standards (GPS),” explained Loe.

To meet the goals of GPS, Fulton County adopted the state’s framework for teaching the new curriculum, selecting textbooks that most closely aligned with the standards. The result was Investigations in elementary school and Connections in middle school.

In addition, Integrated math was mandated at the high school level; meaning full years covering one subject matter, such as Algebra or Geometry, were gone. In its place, content was reorganized with the disciplines blended together so each year elements of all subjects were taught with depth and rigor added as students progressed through the grades.

To help prepare them for high school math, students, beginning in kindergarten, experience age-level concepts in algebra, geometry, probability, measurement, data analysis and other “real world” math applications throughout the year.

While the concept may have seemed laudable on paper, parent protests began almost immediately as the wholesale changes to the math curriculum began to take shape.

“While students were certainly challenged with [the new standards], the way of teaching with the discovery or inquiry method was confusing to some students, teachers and parents,” said Loe.

The system also began to see fewer students being accelerated or advanced, and students not working to their full potential, noted Loe. More significantly, high school math teachers began seeing students who lacked basic computation skills and math scores on nationally-normed tests began flat-lining or dropping.

Parents rallied against what they viewed as a “language arts” approach to math, with students being asked to write sentences on why answers were correct, and correct answers counted equally with correct approaches. A black and white subject, they said, was being reduced to shades of gray.

Loe, who will mark two years in her position in April, immediately began making changes to the math curriculum from nearly her first day on the job, mandating a blended approach to math which incorporated integrated math with traditional math.

Two years later, the problems remain and parents remain unhappy said Loe, primarily because the curriculum is not being applied uniformly throughout the system’s schools. The issue came to a head last month with the 2009 ITBS scores which indicated Fulton students were doing progressively worse in math as they move up through the grades.

In coming to the decision to dump Investigations and Connections, Loe and her staff looked at the results of a recent book which summarized 50,000 studies of student achievement to determine which practices actually correlate to higher achievement. What the study found was direct instruction far exceeded results over inquiry-based learning.

“As we looked at the research, and taking in all the data it makes more sense to move more to the direct instruction,” said Loe.

Among other changes coming on line in the fall of 2010 with the board’s approval will be intensive staff development for teachers in K-8 to prepare for the skills-based curriculum.

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