Math conversations gather data and reveal questions

November 10, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Issaquah School District officials have hosted two high school mathematics meetings and there’s one more where you can voice your opinion.District officials met at Issaquah High School Oct. 27, Liberty High School Nov. 3 and will meet at Skyline High School Nov. 16.

The meetings are part of a yearlong process to ensure the right materials are chosen for the next high school math curriculum, as College Prep Mathematics no longer meets many of the new state requirements.

The process started more than a year ago, and in May, High School Math Adoption Committee members unanimously voted to adopt Key Curriculum Press’ Discovering Mathematics.

However, after community input and a lack of clarity from state officials about their math curriculum recommendation, Superintendent Steve Rasmussen in June decided to put the adoption on hold for another year.

Since the beginning of the school year, district officials have been gathering input from the community about the direction district officials should take regarding algebra and geometry curricula. They’ve also asked for more information from state organizations.

Nearly 20 parents came to the meeting held at Issaquah High School Oct. 27.

The process “gives us the opportunity to let you hear about the rigorous process we went through to recommend a curriculum,” said Patrick Murphy, director of secondary education. “It also gives us the opportunity to talk about math in general. What homework is like, what students learn in school, tutoring and if parents are struggling.

“Depending on the information we gather, that will depend on what we do next,” he added. “But we’re going to consider all the data we receive during this yearlong plan.”

“My grandson is a freshman at PCFC [Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus]. I’m curious to see how they are teaching math versus when I learned math,” meeting attendee John Pintar said. “I want to give him every advantage I can. If I understand the way they are teaching math then I can hopefully help.”

At the meeting, district officials and members of the mathematics selection committee provided insight about why they recommended Discovering Mathematics.

Specifically, teachers and district officials said Discovering Mathematics aligned the most with the state’s new math standards, and had a blend of exploratory and teacher-driven learning, and example formulas and drills for students. It also had a robust outline for teachers to follow, ensuring equal experiences among classes and high schools in the district, teacher Angie Kruzich said.

Parents rotated to four different class sessions during the meeting where information was presented about the process and parents could work with the materials with teachers.

Parents who attended the meeting had plenty of questions and comments, including why the state endorsed Holt Mathematics and not Discovering Mathematics and how the curricula differ.

“I think they could have done a better job for the adoption of new curriculum,” parent Ali Heidari, who is an engineer, wrote in an e-mail. “In my opinion, 14 members is not enough to decide about the district math from elementary to high school levels.

“How come parents were not involved or communicated before final decision?” he added. “I think they should put the meeting minutes and adoption process for review by parents. I think this will be great opportunity for the concerned parents with kids in elementary and middle school to review and feedback.”

In the weeks leading up to the meetings, another community-driven question came up.

Leslie Nielsen, the district’s math curriculum specialist, wrote a book for Key Curriculum Press in 1997 called “Is Democracy Fair?”

The book runs through the mathematics behind voting and appointments and was written while she was living in Denmark, Nielsen said.

It isn’t unusual to have district employees write for various publishers, said Sara Niegowski, the district’s communications director.

In fact, many of the district’s advanced teachers, curriculum specialists and administrative officials have written excerpts or books for various publishing houses, as do many employees with other districts, Niegowski added.

However, the district’s curriculum adoption process specifically ensures that conflicts between its adoption committee and publishers are addressed early.

Each person on the curriculum adoption committee must disclose any conflicts of interest to the committee in its first meetings. Committee members must also disclose whether they stand to gain financially from a curriculum adoption, whether they may gain future employment by selecting a curriculum or have bias for a particular publisher.

Nielsen did each of these, as did other committee members.

Because Nielsen’s book with Key Curriculum Press has nothing to do with the district’s high school math adoption, there was no conflict of interest.

However, Nielsen would have had to excuse herself if the committee decided to debate about College Prep Mathematics published by Prentice Hall, from which she still collects royalties.

Committee members decided the College Prep Mathematics curriculum didn’t align with state standards early on, Niegowski said.

Get Involved

7-9 p.m. Nov. 16 at Skyline High School, 1122 228th Ave. S.E.

Go to www.issaquah.wednet.edu/academics. Click on “Instructional Materials Adoption” and then “High school math adoption.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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