Math committee recommendation: Focus on essentials
The Math Collaborative Committee was formed in the fall of 2011 and charged with developing a vision for the School District of University City’s mathematics program, conducting a comprehensive review of the existing math program and making recommendations to meet student needs and prepare for the upcoming requirements of the Common Core Standards. The committee, which includes math teachers, math coaches, community members and administrators, made its recommendations to the University City Board of Education at the June 21 school board meeting.
“By adopting the committee’s recommendations, we have a great opportunity to impact math instruction and math learning, said Dr. Chauna Williams, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Williams led the committee’s academic reform work and said the months of research and preparation to align the District’s math curriculum with the Common Core Standards will pay huge dividends to students.
“The changes we are making will enable students to engage in advanced math in high school and beyond,” she said. “We are really setting students up to reap the benefits of career readiness in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
The committee reviewed student math achievement data, collected data through interviews and surveys, and conducted site visits and course sequence research at four area districts – Pattonville, Ritenour, Maplewood-Richmond Heights and Webster Groves. The committee also conducted a literature review.
In interviews and focus groups, teachers and principals identified the need for a PreK-12 math curriculum to emphasize essential math concepts, math fluency in early grades and real-life math problems with skills in context among other recommendations. Teachers and principals also reported a need for ongoing and comprehensive PreK-12 math content professional development.
“A vertically aligned curriculum helps teachers understand what students should already know, so they are not spending excess time reteaching the basics,” said Nakia King, math teacher at Brittany Woods Middle School. “Teachers can go deeper with student learning and help students move forward. Students will know how to apply skills and problem solve, not just in math situations, but approach general problem-solving from a different angle.”
The Common Core Math Standards include eight principles for student learning such as students making sense of problems, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, constructing viable arguments, modeling mathematics, using appropriate tools strategically, paying attention to precision, looking for and using structure, and looking for and expressing regularity in repeated reasoning. Committee members used the standards during site visits to analyze instruction. In classrooms where the principles were highly evident, students were participating in doing math – specifically real-life problem-solving – where students explain and defend their reasoning. Student also identified their own ways to solve problems with regular teacher feedback. In classrooms where the eight principals were not evident, teachers did most of the math and students relied on a single way to solve problems with little feedback.
Math teachers from the four site visit districts also conducted an exchange review, and they visited University City classrooms to analyze math instruction. The exchange review included four classrooms, and reviewers reported that in two classrooms students shared some mathematical thinking. However, reviewers stressed the need for greater content rigor at all four sites.
“We have an opportunity to change the way we teach math,” added Stephens. “We need more time for math and more professional development. We need to take the same approach with math that we take with reading, where it’s embedded in all subjects.
In addition to revising the PreK-12 math curriculum, increasing time for math and enhancing professional development, the committee’s recommendations include offering a course sequence with a variety of higher-level math electives at University City High School, creating a rigorous summer math program for secondary students and providing concurrent academic support labs for secondary students in pre-Algebra, Algebra I and Geometry.
The process of revising the math curriculum, implementing enhanced professional development for math teachers and developing a timeline for other committee recommendations will be developed during the upcoming school year.
“The ongoing changes that we are making are the result of thorough research and our best effort to be forward thinking regarding our college and career readiness,” said Williams.
“I am proud of the path that we are charting for our students’ success in this rapidly changing world economy where complex math skills are critical.”