I know there is considerable interest in math in this district, so I was pleased to see the brief piece by Nick Grabbe on the upcoming math review in this week's Bulletin (http://amherstbulletin.com/story/id/186227/), and in particular the publicity for the presentation of the math review by Dr. Chen on Monday, November 1st, at 6:30 pm in the middle school. But I'd like to point out a few things that I wished had been noted in this important story.
First, the piece points out the rise in 6th grade math scores, and that is indicated as evidence that the Investigations curriculum is effective. However, Investigations is a K to 5 curriculum only; our 6th graders use a new curriculum called Impact, which a number of parents (including myself) pushed for for two years. Thus, any improvement in 6th grade scores is due to the new curriculum, which was adopted last year for the first time, and not to Investigations, since 6th graders don't use Investigations.
Second, I'm surprised the story didn't mention that the 3rd grade math scores (the first math scores collected by MCAS, which follow 4 years of Investigations) in Amherst are below the state average. To be precise, only 18% of the 3rd graders in Amherst scored at the Advanced level in math, compared to a state average of 25%. That really suggests that our district is not helping kids to achieve at the highest level. However, even more concerning was the finding that 14% of the kids in Amherst scored at the warning level in math, compared to the state average of 11%. So, our district has more kids at the very bottom level than the state average AND fewer kids at the top.
Third, it is not that "some parents and School Committee members" express concern about Investigations; there has been long-standing concern about Investigations among parents AND teachers in Amherst since at least 2007 (see http://fr.arps.org/node/41 for the math program report which I assisted with under the direction of Jere Hochman and includes negative comments by parents and teachers about Investigations) and there is a large national debate about this curriculum. You can read about the concerns (including petitions to eliminate Investigations) across the country simply by googling "Investigations" and "math". You will find many links showing concerns. In other words, the Amherst debate isn't really an Amherst debate; it is a national debate (and frankly, a very important national debate).
Finally, and most importantly, I think the key piece of information that should have appeared in the story is not opinion - mine, parents, teachers, School Committee members - but data. Because frankly, I'm not interested in having a curriculum simply based on what some people like (whether those people are parents, teachers, SC members, etc.). I want a curriculum that works to teach math. And I've attached a link to an article reporting a random assignment study published last summer (funded by the US Department of Education) showing that Investigations was the weakest of the 4 elementary math curriculum studied (http://ies.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=NCEE20094052). Here's a brief summary:
Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools reports on the relative impacts of four math curricula on first-grade mathematics achievement. The curricula were selected to represent diverse approaches to teaching elementary school math in the United States. The four curricula are Investigations in Number, Data, and Space; Math Expressions; Saxon Math; and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. First-grade math achievement was significantly higher in schools randomly assigned to Math Expressions or Saxon Math than in those schools assigned to Investigations in Number, Data, and Space or to Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. This study is being conducted as part of the National Assessment of Title I. The report cleared IES peer review on February 2, 2009.
I believe that elementary kids in Amherst deserve an excellent math curriculum that will provide them with a thorough basis in mathematics so that they can build on this knowledge in MS and HS math and science courses. If the best curriculum for our kids is Investigations, that's great -- we already own it! And I believe we all need to focus on the facts, and not ideology, and I have serious concerns about both our 3rd grade math scores (again, following 4 years of Investigations) and the results of this randomized study showing Investigations is the worst of the 4 curriculum. I really hope Dr. Chen's report can provide useful information to the district moving forward, and I hope all those interested in this topic will try to attend his presentation on November 1st.
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.