Monday, March 28, 2011

Will changing course on math lower curriculum standards?

Rigor will remain high, more students will have more options.

By John D. Barge

Two years ago, our current 11th graders entered high school taking the Georgia Performance Standards in math. The standards are much more rigorous than the old curriculum, which I applaud. However, at the same time we raised the rigor, we created the perfect storm.

We had a major shift in the way the curriculum was delivered — from a discrete approach to an integrated one. Then, the economy took its sharp decline, providing few resources for teacher professional development. A group of teachers from each school district received a few days of training, and then were expected to go back and train all of the teachers in their own district. That is not the ideal way to roll out a brand new curriculum.

While I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way for the delivery of our math curriculum, I do believe students learn differently and should be given the option of learning through a different teaching method. The integrated approach is not working for all of our students, and we are responsible for preparing all of them!

That’s why I applaud the action our State Board of Education recently took to give local school districts the flexibility to choose what is best for their students. They know their students much better than we do at the state level. With either delivery model, the rigor of the current mathematics standards will not be compromised.

The State Board also allowed students who have struggled under this math delivery to receive core academic credit for the support courses that go along with Math I, Math II and Math III.

Some would say we are retreating from the rigor by allowing credit for these support classes because our graduation rule requires students to complete at least through Math III. I can certainly see why some may think that; however, I would say this is a recognition that a one-size-fits-all approach to mathematics and graduation is counterproductive to the expectation that we prepare students to lead successful lives when they leave us, regardless of their postsecondary paths.

Our current graduation rule requires that all students earn four units of math to graduate, including Math I through Math III, and a fourth math course. On our current integrated delivery model, Math III is the equivalent of trigonometry and statistics. So, even students with learning disabilities in mathematics must complete trigonometry and statistics in order to earn a diploma. Rigorous expectations? Absolutely. Realistic expectations? No.

We currently have thousands of students in 11th grade who have one or no math credits toward the four required to graduate. Without allowing these students to earn credit for their support classes, many of them will ultimately give up on high school, simply because they couldn’t grasp the concepts of math in an integrated fashion.

Our current GPS math curriculum is far more rigorous than our previous curriculum, meaning a student who graduates with Math I and II, as well as Math I and II Support, is far better prepared in mathematics than he or she would have been under our old curriculum.

While this isn’t an ideal situation, I would rather these students have options for careers and/or another form of postsecondary education or training when they leave us.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe in just giving out a high school diploma to students that haven’t earned it. But, many of these students have shown in multiple ways that they deserve it.

The intervention we provided this week for our high school students doesn’t lower the rigorous bar we’ve set; it simply gives them other opportunities to be successful. Without this intervention, the door to the future for thousands of our young people will be closed.

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