New math curriculum adds up

The Bainbridge School District is planning sweeping changes to the math curriculum changes for grades K-12.

The school board Thursday agreed to transfer $220,000 from the district’s capital reserves to the general fund, to pay for new programs and materials.

The new curricula will replace high school and middle school materials purchased in 1995, and the 14-year-old textbooks now used in island elementary classrooms.

“In 1995, we could have found new elementary curricula, but none that reflected the standards for math set in the late 1980s,” said Faith Chapel, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “By waiting until now, we’re seeing the benefit of all the (learning) research.”

A K-12 Mathematics Program Review Committee – formed last February, and comprised of Bainbridge teachers and administrators – recommended three curricula for K-8:

“Bridges in Mathematics” (Math Learning Center) for kindergarten through first grade; “Investigations in Number, Data and Space” (Scott-Foresman/Dale Seymour) for second through fifth grade; and “Connected Mathematics Project” (Prentice-Hall/Dale Seymour) for sixth through eighth grade.

The district measured contenders against several standards, including the state’s Essential Learning Requirements and those set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

They also looked to duplicate the successes of math students in such districts as Bellevue, Lake Washington and Mercer Island.

“We started by looking at test scores that were on a par with us or better,” Ordway teacher Glen Robbins said. “Then we asked ‘what program do you use.’”

Every district math teacher was surveyed. By mid-March the committee had picked the top three contenders for K-8.

“When you get to the level of finalist, all the programs are outstanding,” Robbins said.

But the winners had qualities that gave them a slight edge. All were developed by research institutions funded by the National Science Foundation, in conjunction with universities. Publisher support for the elementary teachers was also crucial, committee members said.

“At that level we need to focus on teaching math to the teachers,” Blakely School teacher Teri Weldy said, “because in K-5 we’re not specialists.”

The Connected Mathematics Project curriculum has what Commodore teacher Paul Sullivan called “a problem-centered curricula with math concepts embedded in truly engaging problems.”

All three finalists follow the so-called “unit approach” that concentrates on a concept in depth for several weeks. The three programs also feature supplementary materials for teachers and parents.

A 10-year plan

As newly developed curricula, all three are at the start of the 10-year “shelf life” educators expect from math materials.

The three K-8 curricula were selected for the similarities that, educators hope, will make transitions to upper grades seamless for students.

“To have a coherent, consistent program you have to have an articulated program,” Chapel said. “What you do in kindergarten feeds into grades one, two, three, and so on.”

Features of the current math curricula that will be retained include a focus on algebra for eighth-graders and memorization of math facts.

“Most of us believe that ongoing computation is a good thing,” Chapel said, “it’s not because we think the programs are weak.”

Recommendations for the high school will be made in mid-June for implementation in the fall. The high school review has been slowed by the large number of courses and textbooks submitted by publishers for district consideration.

Also at issue was the choice between a curriculum that integrates subjects such as statistics, geometry and calculus, and more “traditional” approach endorsed by the committee that preserves the current course sequence and teaches from distinct texts.

Teachers will go home this summer with the new textbooks, but teacher training will continue through early 2003, with Bainbridge Education Support Team money and federal grant funding that supports math and science training.

“Instituting new math curricula district-wide is a massive undertaking,” Chapel said, “and the K-12 mathematics Program Review Committee has done a superb job of selecting the materials.”

The school board authorized the use of capital funds for the curriculum change, board members said, because cuts in state funding used reserves set aside for purchase of the materials.

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