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Jun 15, 201211:35 AMEducation Matters

Does MCPS’s New Math Curriculum Add Up?

Jun 15, 2012 - 11:35 AM
Does MCPS’s New Math Curriculum Add Up?

How do you know if your elementary school student is being challenged in math?

It used to be parents of Montgomery County Public Schools students could rely on these indicators: their child’s grade-level of instruction, performance on regular assessments and homework assignments.

But under the district’s new Curriculum 2.0, based on the rigorous Common Core Standards adopted by the state, those benchmarks no longer apply. The pace of instruction has slowed way down to focus on deeper understanding of basic concepts, kids are no longer being accelerated, and assessment is done more on a daily basis as teachers observe their students’ progress.

The changes were in response to years of concern that the swift pace of elementary math instruction and the process of acceleration resulted in too many kids who stumbled in higher-level math classes because they hadn’t mastered the basics.

Even though teachers generally applaud the new approach to math, a number of parents are  concerned that their kids aren’t getting the level of instruction that they need.

Those concerns led some school board members to question Thursday whether the district may have gone too far in efforts to correct the problems with math. The new curriculum was rolled out through first grade in all schools and second grade in many this past school year; new instruction for third grade will be implemented next fall, with lessons for fourth and fifth grade the following year.

During Thursday’s update on math under 2.0, board President Shirley Brandman cautioned that the district not swing so far in the opposite direction that “those students who truly need acceleration, we don’t over correct for them.” And Vice President Christopher Barclay suggested that some parents think MCPS has abandoned its responsibility to advanced learners.

But Superintendent Joshua Starr and other MCPS officials pointed out that the new curriculum is designed to provide rigor and challenge for all levels of learners. And that the early grades—when establishing that deep foundation is so crucial—are not the right time to accelerate students.

It’s the task of determining of determining a student’s depth of understanding and readiness to advance that’s the issue, he said.

“The ‘really ready’ issue is the rub,” Starr said.  “How we agree and understand on that ‘really ready’ is hugely important.”

And there lies the crux of the problem. MCPS hasn’t quite finished with all the elements needed to fully implement Curriculum 2.0. It’s a work in progress, school officials say.

New methods of assessment are being developed as well as new instruction pathways to make sure that advanced students are ready for higher level courses, such as taking geometry in 8th grade instead of high school. To do that, the district may be looking at “compacting” four years of instruction into three, said Marty Creel, director of the MCPS Department of Enriched and Innovative Programs. 

All of that raises the question, board member Phil Kauffman said, of whether MCPS is “being unfair” to the students who are “constantly going to be in the pilot year” of the rollout of the new curriculum.

Though much of the discussion centered on whether 2.0 was meeting the needs of advanced learners, Starr reminded everyone that MCPS must ensure that all students are given the instruction and support that they need to succeed.

“We have a larger number of kids who we have to ensure are getting to standards” than kids who need to be accelerated, he said. “We must attend to all of it and I must be accountable to all of it.”

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