High school math adoption is put on hold

June 30, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

After community concern and lack of clarity from the state, Issaquah School District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen told school board members June 24 that he decided to delay a high school math curriculum adoption for a year.“The teachers on the adoption committee have done thorough, exceptional work and we don’t want to lose that. But it is prudent to wait for the dust to settle,” he said.

Teachers will continue to use College Prep Mathematics, said Patrick Murphy, executive director of secondary education.

“Come fall 2009, school will happen. Our expectations have not gone down and our community’s expectations have not gone down,” said Ron Thiele, associate superintendent. “We will be ready.”

College Prep had been used since 2002. Curriculum adoptions happen roughly every seven years. In addition, new state high school math standards adopted in 2008 warranted the adoption, since College Prep Math wouldn’t align with them.

The district’s Math Adoption Committee — a group of math teachers and curriculum specialists — began meeting in January to review several curricula. Those meetings eventually led to a unanimous recommendation to adopt Discovering Mathematics, by Key Curriculum Press, in early May.

During that process, state education organizations, like the State Board of Education, several universities and colleges, as well as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office, also began researching several possible math programs to align with new standards, and came up with different recommendations.

The state superintendent’s office research led to the recommendation of Holt Mathematics. It’s the first time the office has recommended only one curriculum instead of several to choose from. It is not mandated that districts use the state-recommended curriculum; districts are able to choose what works best for their student population, a May 4 memo from the state superintendent’s office said.

The conflicting information, reports and curricula recommendations sent alarms through parents, many of whom said they weren’t made aware the district was planning to adopt a new high school math curriculum.

Questions surfaced as to the district’s process; whether committee members solicited community feedback about math; conflicting information from educational organizations; and about how math is taught in general throughout the district.

“I want to make clear, at least for me, it was not about the curriculum. I think the teachers, they did a great job and it probably is the right curriculum,” said Kelly Munn, a parent and education advocate. “The issue here is, are we headed in the right direction?

“Patrick (Murphy) has said we have goals outside of good WASL scores and state standards,” she added. “I’d like to know what they are and where we stand.”

“We need to make sure we look holistically at math in this district, not just at the high school, but the elementary, middle school and high school levels,” said parent and education advocate Anne Moore.

Board members had the opportunity to ask some of the same questions during a work-study session June 10. They asked teachers and district officials whether a new curriculum adoption would be the right decision.

They also asked why they had chosen Discovering Mathematics over other curricula. In response, the teachers said the lessons, class investigations and materials will make for a more equitable math experience for students across the district, with less variance from class to class. However, teachers did say that when it came down to it, you could have almost any textbook in the classroom, but good quality teachers are what make the difference in how or what students learn.

To help settle issues regarding the state’s curriculum choice, district officials had tried to organize a meeting where state officials with varying opinions would come support their work. State officials declined that request, Murphy said.

“The actions by state over the last few months, rather than being helpful, have actually caused a lot of consternation, and in some instances, have kind of paralyzed districts in their ability to select math materials and their ability to move forward at this point,” he said.

Before the beginning of the school year, teachers and district officials will begin looking at ways to help support teachers and students meet state standards with the current curriculum. That will include professional development this summer for high school math teachers, implementing new Internet tools for students and finding new ways to connect with students who are struggling, Thiele said.

After school starts, district officials will begin gathering community and student input and feedback, and teachers will meet again this winter to look at the Discovering Mathematics recommendation and possibly other alternatives.

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