My June Oped in the Bulletin regarding math in ARMS and ARHS has led to a number of responses, including two letters in today's Bulletin (not yet online, but will be soon) and an official response on the ARHS website (http://www.arps.org/hs/Parents/IMPMathIntro.php). The high school response makes a number of claims about the benefits of IMP, including that this program is associated with students taking more math classes and achieving higher standardized test scores. I would encourage parents and community members to read the research posted in this link carefully: what is very clear is that IMP was developed in the early 1990s, and that ALL of the research cited in this link is from the early to mid-1990s, when students taking IMP math were still in high school. Some evidence now suggests that this approach didn't really stand the test of time -- meaning that when students trained in IMP entered college-level math classes, they struggled considerably. This might be why of the 23 districts that, like Amherst, are part of the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), 16 do NOT offer an IMP math track. It might also be why there is considerable controversy in the mathematics community about IMP (and other forms of reform math), as described in an editorial by David Klein, a math professor at California State Northridge, in the American Journal of Physics entitled "School math books, nonsense, and the National Science Foundation (http://www.csun.edu/~vcmth00m/).
Most importantly, what the response from the high school does NOT say is that "we have tested the effectiveness of the IMP program in ARHS and have found the following results" -- because absolutely no analysis of the effectiveness of this program has been conducted in our high school. And that is the entire point of my oped, which in fact ended with the following sentence: As part of the upcoming review of the mathematics curriculum in Amherst, we need to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of both the IMP and extensions programs so that we can adequately advise students about both the benefits and costs of their choices, and ideally help all students make choices that expand rather than limit their possibilities. My piece did NOT say "let's immediately end the IMP math program" -- it said we need to evaluate the effectiveness of this program in our school, since some national data is suggesting it has some real problems for college-bound students (particularly those who want to study math or science).
As a member of the Regional School Committee, I pushed hard last fall for an evaluation of K to 12 math, including an examination of the effectiveness of the IMP program. This would be quite an easy evaluation to conduct: since we currently have kids in both the IMP and traditional tracks, one could track their MCAS scores over time and directly compare rate of change (improvement) as a function of which math track was chosen. One could also compare whether one approach was better as a function of gender, or level of math proficiency, etc. Again, this would be a very easy analysis to do, and yet it hasn't ever been done so we really don't know how effective this alternative math program is in general or how effective it is for particular students.
I have been a member of the School Committee for over two years, and a member of the Math Curriculum Council for a year prior to that, and at no time has any high school math teacher (or the HS principal) come to a SC or math curriculum council meeting and requested this type of rigorous evaluation so that we would definitively understand the benefits and/or costs for all or some students of choosing the IMP math track. Yet this seems like an evaluation that all SC members, math teachers, parents, and principals, should agree is long overdue, and highly important for our students.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.