This letter was emailed to the School Board on 2/9/15.
To the Members of the School Board, Superintendent Constance Hubbard, and Assistant Superintendent Randall Booker:
Given that teachers, parents, students, and district staff have strongly held and sometimes divergent views on how best to implement the new Common Core math standards, we appreciate the choice to establish a Math Task Force to help integrate these perspectives. It is clear that a lot of time, effort, and thought went into the process, and we thank all participants for their contributions.
We have now had a chance to review the Math Task Force’s recommendation. There are many aspects of the proposal that we like. It helps to meet the needs of all learners by providing both support classes, as well as compression opportunities. It preserves a pathway to AP Calculus BC for the students who need that challenge. It offers multiple opportunities for compression, recognizing that students will vary in their needs for challenge and that these needs will become apparent at different times. On balance, we support many of the core features of the recommendation.
At the same time, we see some important shortcomings in the proposal. The two main opportunities for improvement that we see are:
(1) Ensuring that the bridge IM 2A course, which students who seek greater challenge would need to take in the summer before high school or through self-study, does not impose undue burden or stress on these students and their families and—at the same time—adequately prepares them for the courses that will follow; and
(2) Providing greater differentiation support, especially in classes with heterogeneous groupings of students, than has been in place in 2014-2015. Based on the feedback we have been hearing from parents, differentiated instruction in the new Common Core classes has been inconsistent. Some students have struggled with the new material, while others have felt inadequately challenged.
Given these concerns, we would ask that you make some short-term (i.e., for 2015-2016 implementation) amendments to the recommendation and explore the possibility of making longer-term (i.e., beyond 2015-2016) adjustments to the pathways.
In the short-term (for implementation in 2015-2016), we propose the following changes to the recommendation:
(1) Improve access to and support of the IM 2A bridge course by:
a. Providing some PUSD teacher support for the students who take the self-study version of the course to ensure that they have a consistent learning experience.
b. Making PUSD self study 2A course materials readily available for students who wish to pursue this pathway in their own time and offering students the flexibility of taking a readiness assessment for IM2B/3 at both the end of the preceding school year and the end of the summer. We believe this flexibility is critical, given that taking a six week summer course is simply not feasible for many families.
(2) Increase the resources available for differentiation support, especially in classes with heterogeneous groupings of students. We believe this need is greatest in the middle school, where—as we understand it—there is currently 0.2 FTE support for differentiated instruction. We would urge the district to substantially increase (e.g., double) the FTE support for differentiated instruction in the middle school and also add comparable support for the high school math classes in which students are clustered heterogeneously.
In the longer-term, we think it is imperative for the district to more systematically collect data—including objective measures of student achievement and subjective measures of student, teacher, and parent satisfaction and perceived learning, engagement, and challenge—that can inform possible adjustments to these pathways. We recognize that the Board asked for such data to be collected last spring and believe that district staff have taken some initial steps to do so. We would, however, like to see the pace of this effort accelerated and a comprehensive system of measures put in place this year to inform choices for 2015-2016 and beyond.
We also encourage the district to remain open to earlier compression points (e.g., compression starting in CC-6 or compression of IM-3 and Math Analysis content) that would obviate the need for an IM 2A bridge course. There are clear tradeoffs involved in these choices, and we think it is essential that they be revisited when high-quality data about these new courses become available.
We hope this feedback is useful as you make final decisions about these pathways. Thank you for considering our input.
The Piedmont ALPS Board
Kim Fisher, Sameer Srivastava, Lisa Joyce, Julie Caskey, Jim Govert, Elizabeth Shook, Cindy Wire, Stephanie Teleki, Dana Lung