Comments, ideas and concerns about the math curricula at Andover Public Schools

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Middle School Math Roundtable

A very informative meeting was held at Wood Hill Middle School the night of January 31, with a literally standing-room-only turnout surpassing all expectations. Approximately 120 interested parents, educators and students joined 4 School Committee members (Tony James, Art Barber, Deb Silberstein and Dick Collins) and a 9-member panel from the school district. Former School Committee chair Tina Girdwood served as moderator.

The audience listened respectfully as Marcia O'Neil and the principals and math curriculum committee members from each of the middle schools delivered a 60+ minute presentation on the middle school model, the math curriculum, and the process for evaluating and improving the implementation of math at the middle school. Dozens of questions were submitted to the moderator, and several were asked and discussed by the group at large. Unfortunately, the meeting was adjourned by the adminstration with only a fraction of the topics discussed in the open forum.

This blog provides an opportunity to continue that discussion, through new topics being posted and comments to those entries, without concern for time limits and without fear of interruption.

9 comments:

Marjorie Andresen said...

Thank you to everyone who made time during a busy week to come out for the middle school math roundtable. You being there sent the message that this topic is important to the Andover community. This was a huge step on the road to improving the math curriculum. I, personally, want to let you know how much I appreciate your time, commitment and feedback in this ongoing (and often frustrating) process.

Thank you all for giving the APS your attention during the presentation. Your decorum at the meeting was exemplary. And your willingness to listen goes a long way toward all of us being heard now.

Thank you to all of you who were able to ask your questions and provide feedback. I know that many of you left frustrated becuz your specific issues were not addressed. I would suggest that you send your remaining questions to APS via middleschoolmath@gmail.com These are forwarded to Dr. O'Neil and to the School Committee.

Things are different this time around. Three years of experience, three years of test scores, three years of info gathering, a national focus on math issues, a statewide focus on STEMs..... and a School Committee that is listening to your concerns.

This roundtable was not meant to be the solution to the issues. It was intended to give the community a chance to be heard in front of APS and the School Committee. Now it's time to collect more hard data and to use that information to work toward a solution for our students.

Please feel free to post your comments or to submit new entries to this blog. It isn't managed by the Andover Public Schools. It's out here so we can continue to brainstorm/dialogue/problem solve as a community.

Thanks again! Sincerely,
Marj Andresen

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed not only by how many people came to the meeting, but also by how informed they were. These are the comments on the meeting that I have sent to the APS.

1. If, as Marcia O'Neill said, APS administration is interested in our feedback, why was so much time spent on presenting information on the middle school model. We have all attended meetings on this topic in the past. By spending over an hour on these presentations, parents had time to present only problems and there was little time to thing about solutions. I propose a follow up meeting to talk about possible solutions. We have made our case... we now want to see action taken.

2. If the data shows that we are at the mid-point or below the other comparable towns on test scores, doesn't that say we have a problem that should be addressed. Would you be happy if a student was at a c-level or below?

3. Ann Collins said that she told the administration that the curriculum was lacking in algebraic enumeration three years ago and that there was a need to bridge this gap in high school. Why did the curriculum counsels not put together the materials necessary to bridge that gap. The school system has access to the Drexel math program and the John Hopkins math program, as well as the previously taught algebra curriculum. Instead of repeating areas and perimeters one more time, why didn't the math teachers agree to stop and teach the missing material BEFORE the teachers arrived at the high school. That way everyone would have been on a level playing field and the students would have had a firm basis for geometry.

4. If you believe the teachers should be offering higher-level materials to the higher-level students, why didn't this group of math educators meet and develop higher-level curriculum to present to these students. Why should each teacher in our school system have to do this separately? It defeats the purpose of having a standard curriculum!

5. I believe one of the reasons differentiation is done well at Bancroft is that the learning specialist is charged with ensuring that students higher level skills have adequate materials. Why don't you change the role of the special needs teachers on each team to be that of a learning specialist, who is responsible not only for students on IEPs, but also for assisting teachers with differentiation.

6. Most middle schools have electives. Why don't these electives include teaching math and writing skills in some fun manner. There is a perfect opportunity to enhance the curriculum, without adding to the day-to-day workload in the classroom. I believe this would work if electives were for one-term, rather than the entire school year. I don't understand who wants to teach Puzzle Mania or Trekkies for an entire school year.

7. Finally, I think the school administration should consider what homogeneous classrooms have done to the teachers. They are frustrated and feel they cannot win in these systems. I spoke to all 3 of my son's math teachers about providing higher level materials to higher level students and they ALL expressed frustration at trying to do more than they are doing in the current system. The pressure to ensure they lower level students pass MCAS has made it almost impossible to do more. More than one of the teachers told me that there was no room for her to do that in this curriculum!

We hope that you will provide a forum to find solutions for these complex issues. I encourage you to add parent input to the curriculum counsels and that you make remediation of the math program a topic for the school improvement counsels. Whether you like it or not, the legislature had mandated these counsels to ensure that there is parent input into their children's education at every school in Massachusetts. Parents don't want to be just a problem, we want to be part of the solution.

Sincerely,

Lori Barsalou
Parent of APS 5th & 9th graders

Jill Perry said...

Just want to share my experience...

My daughter is a sophomore at AHS. She loves math and has always gotten A's. I only mention grades here as an indication of how comfortable she has been with math. She was in the first class to go through the new math program in middle school. She was recommended for enriched math at the high school but I didn't have the confidence that she'd received enough algebra in the new middle school program so I requested that she go with the honors level. As a freshman she got an A in Geometry. Last summer I spent over $500 on an Algebra tutor because of my concern. This fall she took Algebra II and struggled getting poor grades on many tests. I'm not sure of her final grade but I'm sure it's not an A. She's feeling a bit discouraged but still loves math. I'm grateful that she has a positive attitude and hopes to do better this spring.
I tell this experience in hopes that those who make decisions can see that they are affecting lives. My daughter was enthusiastic about using math in her future career because she *loves* it. What about those who don't? Why would we choose a program that does not prepare our students for their academic future in math? Has anyone asked the Sophomore Algebra teachers how things are going this year since this is the first class that has hit the high school Algebra classes after using the new program in middle school?

Anonymous said...

As a former sixth grade teacher of math I feel the parents pain. CMP is a poor math preparation program. It makes the teacher a robot following the lessons as stated with no room for the teacher to spice up the lessons.
It may indeed allow the lower students to "pass" MCAS, but does little to advance the average and above students.
However with pairing and working in "groups" their social skills are amongst the best in the universe.

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