Ga.’s New Math curriculum in Fayette schools: It just doesn’t add up

Tue, 09/16/2008 - 3:49pm
By: Letters to the ...

An open letter to state Schools Superintendent and Fayette County neighbor Kathy Cox:

Three years ago, Georgia began the phased-in implementation of a new math curriculum. Today’s 9th graders are the lead group, having started the program when they were in 6th grade.

The new curriculum, based on discussing math concepts in peer groups and employing teachers not as instructors but as facilitators, is somewhat controversial nationwide (and has been highlighted recently in the AJC). Here in Fayette County, where both parental expectations and student achievement typically run high, problems with Georgia’s New Math curriculum are already affecting our students.

At J.C. Booth Middle School, three classrooms of last year’s 7th grade accelerated math students have been pared down to one classroom of 8th grade accelerated math students. A total of approximately 20 Booth 8th graders are now taking 8th grade accelerated math, leaving approximately 60 8th graders with no curriculum. (They already took “regular 8th grade math” as accelerated 7th graders.

To verify, refer to the Fayette County Math Coordinator’s progression flowchart.) Because there is no curriculum for these students, they have been relegated to repeating an entire year of math.

With input from parents, I reviewed the grades and test scores of many of these 60 students and learned that virtually all of them aced last year’s 7th Grade accelerated math curriculum. Why would these “A” students (who also scored very well on the CRCTs) fail to advance to 8th grade accelerated math?

The answer lies in something called a cumulative test. The cumulative test, unique to Fayette County and devised by our own Fayette County Math Coordinator Lynn Ridgeway, was the downfall of most of our accelerated 7th grade students.

Following an entire year of good grades, mastery of concepts, and consistent indicators of success in 7th grade accelerated math, most of the students failed the cumulative test. What does this tell us about that test?

This was a brand new test, newly created, never before used. Why didn’t Fayette County officials throw out the results of the cumulative test? Surely in the wake of the recent statewide social studies CRCT test problems, we understand that sometimes one test is not an indication of student achievement.

It is illogical and unconscionable that Fayette County prohibited the advancement of dozens of capable students as a result of a single flawed test. The same problem can be seen at the other middle schools.

I have been told by Booth officials that last year’s 8th grade accelerated math class had a 60% failure rate. OK, so now we are discussing the best and the brightest, our most eager math learners, who have done well in both 6th grade accelerated math and 7th grade accelerated math, subjected to Georgia’s new 8th grade accelerated math curriculum, they are failing en masse.

Ms. Cox, this is not a reflection of the students. It is a clear indication of problems with the new curriculum.

I have been told by the same school officials that Georgia’s new 8th grade accelerated math curriculum “goes too fast.” Think about what “goes too fast” really means: either an inadequate amount of time is spent or an insufficient teaching methodology is used (or both) on key math concepts, to the extent that students are failing to learn.

Again, this is not a reflection of the students. It is a clear indication of problems with the new curriculum.

(At Curriculum Night, teachers of “regular 8th grade math” told parents of the repeat students that the previous year of math had gone “too fast,” possibly forgetting that the students as an entire group had already aced the course. They explained that in order to go more in-depth, they would be using old textbooks featuring algebra and geometry. Kathy, if old textbooks featuring algebra and geometry provide more in-depth instruction, then I suggest we use them in the first place.)

Ms. Cox, three factors combine to create a successful math student: 1. A ready, eager, well-supported learner; 2. appropriate curriculum; and 3. teachers who are well-versed in the material and who can use resources to effectively impart knowledge.

Fayette County parents have provided the learners. Sadly, our Fayette County math coordinator and state-level officials have failed to uphold their end of the bargain.

The curriculum is not working, and the teachers are not ready to do what Georgia’s new math curriculum requires them to do.

Make no mistake, I am not blaming the teachers. I truly consider Fayette County middle school math teachers to be the good guys, many of them struggling, as I am, to fathom both the logic behind this untested curriculum, and expectations for teachers that have suddenly and vastly changed.

In the state of Georgia, middle school math teachers go through their own educational curriculum focused on educating students in grades 4-8. These teachers, who are experts in their field (some of whom have decades of experience), are now expected to teach what used to be taught only in the high schools.

The Georgia Department of Education website features your imperative to increase the number of students participating in AP courses in high school. But the majority of students who would have been excellent candidates are now precluded from taking AP Statistics as sophomores.

Two years from now, we will see a precipitous drop in AP participation due to this repeat year in middle school for so many of our accelerated students. (To verify, refer to the Fayette County progression flowchart.)

The disconnect between good intentions at the state level and implementation in Fayette County classrooms is huge. Proponents of Georgia’s New Math claim we need to “monitor and support implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards over the next several years.”

Ms. Cox, our students do not have several years to wait. The majority of Fayette County’s A- and B- math students are already finding themselves left behind.

I implore you to address the problems at hand:

1. Fayette County’s cumulative test is impossibly flawed. Eliminate it.

2. The 8th Grade accelerated math curriculum is broken. Fix it.

3. The majority of our accelerated math students are sitting through a repeat year – for absolutely no reason. Teach our children! They deserve no less, and time is wasting.

(As I write this, these students are filling out math worksheets they already completed last year – in this, the fifth week of school.) Where I come from, we have a name for this. And it isn’t “rigorous curriculum.”

Clicking your heels together and saying the words “rigorous curriculum” over and over does not turn Georgia’s New Math program into a rigorous curriculum. What we are doing to our children in Fayette County math classrooms is not rigorous; it is shameful. Georgia’s New Math curriculum is an experiment with no indicators of success in other school systems; here in Fayette County, it is already failing.

Surely you care enough about Fayette County students to want to listen, discuss, and take action to fix the obvious problems. Your silence to date has been deafening.

Kimberly Learnard, BSEE, M. Ed.

Peachtree City, Ga.

[Kimberly Learnard is an electrical engineer who has practiced her profession for 25 years. She is a contractor with Georgia Quick Start, and teaches math to adults in manufacturing companies. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia.]

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Submitted by travisv10 on Fri, 11/14/2008 - 11:58pm.

Hi, my name is Travis and I am a 9th grader at Starr's Mill. I am currently taking accelerated math 1 and its horrible. Ive ALWAYS gotten A's in math and Ive gotten a math award 2 years in a row. Right now I have a borderline b to a c. Ive never worked so hard at any subject. I even have a BETA club student tutoring me every now and then. Everyday we learn a new concept and I end up learning everything out of the book! The very idea that teachers should "facilitate" learning is rediculous! please fix this!

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Submitted by Main Stream on Sat, 11/15/2008 - 10:55am.

Travis, we also dislike the math curriculum in Fayette, and know many other parents who are dissatisfied as well. Our middle-schooler doesn't even have a math book that we can use, as parents, to help our child with math concepts, problems, extra problem-solving, math functions, principles, NOTHING! It's ludicrous not to have a book. Our child studies for tests with scraps of paper, and NO BOOK!

Ms. Ridgeway is an idiot and should stop experimenting with our childrens math education.

Submitted by travisv10 on Sat, 11/15/2008 - 12:26pm.

Oh, yeah, last year, in 8th grade, we had "textbooks" that were soft-covered and looked like a workbook. I remember in 7th grade having nothing. I was lucky because my teacher really liked me which made tests and projects easier. Eye-wink

8th grade was a good year for me because I had a really, really good math teacher (Waxmonsky- he left RSMS after his first year). I was in the normal math up until high school.

By Ms. Ridgeway, you mean the one working at the district office, right? Or do you mean the middle school teacher, Mandy Ridgeway. (my 7th grade math teacher)

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Sat, 11/15/2008 - 6:57pm.

Yes, I was referring to the Fayette County Math Coordinator, Lynn Ridgeway.

Submitted by travisv10 on Sat, 11/15/2008 - 9:52pm.

Yeah this has really got to change soon before its too late.
Good luck with your daughter's math! Hopefully it will get better!

-Travis V10

Submitted by Davids mom on Sat, 11/15/2008 - 9:13am.

Schedule an appointment with your teacher and parent immediately. If the result is not an improvement in your understanding and performance in this class - see the principal.

Submitted by travisv10 on Sat, 11/15/2008 - 12:39pm.

My mom has emailed the teacher one or twice.

The reply was "well this is /accelerated/ math, you know. It shouldn't be easy". Well, I knew that acc math would be hard but not /this/ hard. My friends in the regular math are having it as bad as I am. The only difference is that they get more time to do things which makes a HUGEE difference!

An avarage day in my math class is:
-You come in and go over last nights homework.
-Kids ask questions and the teacher reworks the problem.
-Then my teacher writes the definitions/thermos/whatever it is we need to know.
-By then she either runs out of time or just barely finishes the "lesson".

When I go home, I bring my math book that I have homework in and flip 1-2 pages back. The book gives you an entire lesson of what your homework is on. The only thing keeping me from failing miserably in that class is the textbook. I think that the textbook should stay but the style of teaching neeeeds to go. Being the first class with the curriculum makes it veryy hard because every year the teachers are scrambling to figure out how to improve their teaching. About the 3rd or 4th week of school, my teacher came out and said "I'm not lowering my standards. You guys are just going to have to step it up." which said that everyone in the class was doing horrible. By the first week, we had 3-5 kids drop out. (leaving us with about 10-13 people) Teaching in our class has improved a lot but I think its more of everyone learning how to use the textbook. I wish that this year could be redone once its over so the teachers know how to teach it.

Right now, I'm just pushing through until next year, hoping that it will be easier. I figure that my grades in other classes will bring up my GPA. :/

Thanks for the comment!

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