There are a few important math updates to report.

First, the long awaited math plan is now available and posted on the ARPS website (http://www.arps.org/node/2819). This plan was discussed at both the Regional and Amherst meetings last week (which you can watch on ACTV) and there is a brief article in this week's Bulletin about the Regional SC's discussion of the plan (http://amherstbulletin.com/story/id/200871/).

Second, there will be a public forum on elementary math on Tuesday, March 22nd, at 7 pm in Town Hall. This is your chance to share your thoughts about the math action plan with the SC and superintendent, so I hope all those who care about math in Amherst will read the report and come with their thoughts and questions.

## 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.

## Friday, March 11, 2011

Subscribe to:
Post Comments (Atom)

## 41 comments:

Re-post:

We received a letter in Thursday's mail confirming that our 5th grade child has been offered admittance to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

Each year PVCICS admits Kindergarten and 6th grade students.

Math?In its first year of MCAS completion (2010),

PVCICS students performed first - 1 of 6 schools among 960 in the Commonwealth tied at #1 with a score of 100%- in third grade Mathematics.We pursued because our Fort River student is not being challenged in math. There are a couple of remaining spots open for sixth grade students entering fall, 2011. Contact PVCICS before March 15; attend March 12 information session 1:00pm at 317 Russell Street, Hadley (next to Whole Foods).

P.S. from Anon. 9:24

FYI, Fort River Elementary is tied with three other schools ranking 802 out of 960.

http://bit.ly/fEhdu4

Select

1. Elementary

2. Grade: 3rd Grade

3. Year: 2009-2010 (default)

4. Test: MCAS Mathematics

click GO

How many students are at pvcics? How many teachers? How many special ed students? How may low income students? How many other adults who assist in any way with the education?

See where I'm going?

A lot of people don't know much about charter schools, but they like to boast about them.

The comparison to a regular public elem school is hardly even apples and oranges. It's more like apples and baseball cards.

pvcics may well be doing a great job, but they are definietly not in the same situation that any public elem school in Amherst is in.

I agree that charter schools work well, so let's take that model and use it in all public schools. Smaller class sizes, smaller school sizes for starters.

Oh, but then we'd no end of complaint about how much money the schools are sucking up.

The charter school will siphon off strong students and students that their parents want to be stronger. The Chinese Charter School looks attractive to parents looking for more challenging math for their kids in elementary school. The charter school uses Singapore math recommended by Dr. Chen, the math program also used by Dr. Whittaker in his volunteer AIMS program to strengthen the math skills of African American boys. Parents in Amherst have been asking for a more challenging math curriculum and higher expectations for students for years. Here it is, next door in Hadley.

The Chinese Charter School also has a really strong foreign language program. Amherst elementary schools launched a small Spanish program last year and instead of strengthening and integrating into the curriculum with more time and other subjects, it's doing the opposite.

The Chinese Charter School is free. It's a form of public education, not an expensive private school available only to families with money.

It's hard for hardworking public educators to confront and accept that they are now competing with another form of public education. To keep their schools strong, traditional public schools need to enrich their own curriculum and offerings to students. This is just a fact.

A lack of money can't be the excuse since Amherst has the highest per pupil spending in the area.

If I read this correctly, it means that I have a choice for my elementary student (now in second grade at Crocker Farm):

He can study math locally at his Amherst school ranking #622/960 (yay- CF is ahead of FR!), or at a Hadley school ranking #1/960.

The Hadley school uses the math program that Amherst's consultant recommends (but its adoption in Amherst must be 'negotiated' with the teachers and Superintendent, likely to be resolved after my student is in college - (and not at MIT!).

It won't cost me a penny to enroll him at PVCICS where he will get the math support that's appropriate, AND

Amherst will continue to receive funding from Boston as though he was enrolled at Crocker Farm - 100% next year, and a declining amount for the next 3-5 years, for his 'empty desk.'

Sounds as though everybody wins!

That charter school has a teacher-student ratio that is half that of the state (7-1+/- vs 13-1+/-) and even much lower than Fort River (11-1+/-). It has only a negligible percentage of ELLs (less than 1%), 11% low income (versus over 35% statewide and FR)--so not only does it have a fantastic student teacher ratio, it has it with students who are more likely to achieve highly in the first place. Moreover, it has a good number of Chinese-American students (the school is 20% Asian, and a Chinese-English dual language program, so I'm concluding it from that data) who research (by Chinese researchers) has shown to generally outperform other groups of students in math. The school has much lower %s of Special ed students than the state and FR. It is a dual language school in a way that our public schools cannot afford to be. It gets the average per pupil expenditure from the sending district even though nearly all the students at the school are students who actually cost much less to teach.

Given all that, if anyone still thinks that thinks it's the "math program" that created those wonderful scores--it's not.

Parents need to do what they think in the best interests of their children, and whatever is within their means to do. Let's not get carried away, however, by what we think causes the achievement disparities. And be aware that as increasing numbers of public school dollars get siphoned off to charters that serve very selected populations of students to begin with, we can then applaud their wonderful results even as the public schools have increasingly fewer resources to teach increasingly higher percentages of more challenging populations to teach.

Ken, I think you have described a process going on in many school districts around the country, including Boston and Cambridge. Top it off with failing AYPs and penalties from No Child Left Behind Act and it's not a pretty picture for regular public schools.

But instead of getting depressed, let me urge parents and teachers to come to the Amherst School Committee-sponsered public meeting on the Math Action Plan just put out by the new curriculum director. This meeting will be on Tuesday, March 22nd at 7 pm in the Town Room.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the Math Action Plan -- and maybe Dr. Chen's report. This will really be the only chance for parents discuss the plan in an open forum -- and to talk with Amherst School Commitee members and school administrators.

I am really grateful for the Amherst School Committee for voting to hold this meeting since there has been no opportunity for the public to comment on the Math Action Plan before it's adoption by the Superintendent. Public discussion will not change the plan but at least we can talk about it, discuss it and offer our views to the School Committee members.

By way of backstory, when I asked the Superintendent if there would be time for public comments on the plan in what became an unexpected heated exchange, she said no, she felt that there had been enough public discussion of the plan and it was time to stop discussion and implement. Even though I have been following this issue rather closely with a group of parents, this was news to me. A promised public meeting on Dr. Chen's report was never held. A parent's Public Records Request for a copy of the draft recommendations was denied. (I still don't understand why the draft recommendatons wouldn't be widely circulated.) My attempts to organize a meeting with the curriculum director to find out about the proposed recommendations failed. Maybe there were other public meetings I was unaware of. (I do really think the only window was this past Tuesday -- between the time the report was posted under the Reports button on the ARPS homepage and the time for public comments at the Regional School Committee meeting that night but maybe not even then.) After reading all this, you can see why I am so grateful to the Amherst School Committee for holding this meeting.

Anyway, the Math Action Plan is pretty long, definitely worth a read and now mentioned on the homepage of the ARPS website. It was presented and/or discussed at the two school committee meetings this week. Watch the ACTV recordings to catch the details. I am hoping all the schools will post a link to the plan and news of the March 22nd meeting on their homepages, so more parents can learn about the meeting and the action plan.

I think the parents, teachers and students in this district have a lot to say and it will be useful for the School Committee members to hear it. Hopefully people will feel comfortable asking questions or people will be allowed to submit written questions (since, as my experience shows, it's not that relaxing to ask a question in a public meeting.) Let's find out and talk about the Math Action Plan and what it holds for our children.

Anon 9:29, another thing I should add is that different lists show different things. http://www.boston.com/news/special/education/mcas/scores09/results/amherst.htm shows FR at 3rd in math 404 of 981, grade 4 at 235 of 967, 148 of 897 at grade 5, and grade 6 is 134 of 565. A mite different that 800+ out of 900. Plus, middle class/affluent students in Amherst do well above the state average, and certainly well above the school average, regardless of what the "average" score is in either place. Also, sometimes students say they're not learning in math, or the parent thinks it, but a Warning, or Needs Improvement or Proficient or Advanced score at FR means EXACTLY the same thing as it does at PVCICS, or anywhere else for that matter, so their score tells you what they actually have learned relative to other students in the state, no matter where they earned it.

You certainly can and should make your decision to take your child wherever you want, but please don't slant things to make it seem like Amherst schools are over the edge and tumbling into the abyss.

Janet said "By way of backstory, when I asked the Superintendent if there would be time for public comments on the plan in what became an unexpected heated exchange,"

I beg to differ with Janet's characterization of the exchange. I watched it on tv and it did not seem heated to me...Janet kept asking the same thing and Ms. Geryk kept responding the same way. There was a bit of back and forth but it did not appear heated to me.

10:05 a.m.

I agree with everything you say.

So why don't we close another elementary school in town and make the odds even higher for teachers to teach and students to learn? After all we can 'save' millions that way... And uh--money is the bottome line...isn't it??

Just looking at 3rd grade scores and comparing them to %FRL, you see that WW is doing better than most schools w/ the same %FRL (21%) and FR is doing way worse than schools with the same %FRL (27%).

Go to the link by 9:29 am which is

http://bit.ly/fEhdu4

and follow that person's instructions, and sort by "Received free/discount lunch"

Then search for WW, FR, or CF. You see that amongst the 21% FRL schools, WW does way better in terms of ranking, FR does way worse.

The other way to look at it is to rank them by rank - and look who is near the 802nd rank - and it's almost all schools with much higher %FRL. The other schools tied for 802nd have the following %FRL: 35, 54, 82%. The schools with a one rank higher have FRL of (44,70,85,84,26,73,86, 45%). The schools with one rank lower than FR's have FRLs of (35, 88, 92, 92, 78, 85, 82).

I would this adds up to something wrong with the math program in the 3rd grade at FR last year. Or a really not-talented class.

Here are some thoughts on the district’s ‘action plan’. The report is largely what I suspected/feared would happen with regard to Elementary Math. In two words- very little. Largely the document is proposing yet another (extended) review of our math program, which could take many years (no time-line provided).

Some specifics comments:

1)Examine possible alternative curricula. My belief is that this recommendation has been offered to placate members of the community who seek changes, with no actual intent to act on any recommendation that may ultimately be made (after all there is no deadline for action). If a recommendation is made, a reason (excuse) will be provided at that time about why it isn’t a good time to make a change (however, the focus on math will have been dissipated and only the most dedicated and tenuous will have maintained interest). “Ignore it and it will go away”.

2)Reasons that will be offered to delay or not implement changes to the curriculum:

a.Assessments for the new common core standards won’t be available for a couple of years. Thus, changes to the curriculum won’t be made for several years as yet a new assessment of curricula will need to be made following release of assessments. It seems likely to me, however, that any of the leading curricula being considered will follow new assessments aligned to the new CCS (as so many states (and markets) are or have adopted the Common Core Standards. This delay strikes me as yet more of ‘ignore it and it will go away’. (I think you can see the foundation laid for this argument in the current document)

b.If we delay for 4 years or more to make real curricular change than it seems possible that this change will not be implemented by Beth Graham, thus she neatly sidesteps any responsibility/accountability for any change. It is easier/safer for bureaucrats to maintain the status quo than take a risk.

3)42% of families surveyed are dissatisfied with elementary math. I believe none of the recommendations touch the source of this dissatisfaction. We have had math coaches in the recent past. I am not convinced that they were effective. A central recommendation is to add math coaches and a coordinator. What would be different with the proposed coaches? Would these be recycled from the current staff (as I believe happened in the past) or would we recruit staff that is truly knowledgeable in math?

4)My understanding was the middle school had dedicated math teachers. Am I mistaken? If correct, why would the MS need math coaches (See Professional Development #1).

5)I don’t understand (See Professional Development #2i) at all “Recruit and hire special educators with mathematics certification and support special educators willing to become highly qualified in mathematics; hire mathematics teachers with special education certification and support mathematics teachers willing to become certified in special education”. Is this the coaches or regular classroom teachers? Or yet addition ‘support’ staff positions?

6)(See Professional Development #1e) ‘Develop a co-teaching/team teaching instructional delivery model that fully utilizes and legitimizes the role of every adult in the (mathematics) classroom.’ What does this mean?

continued:

6)(See Professional Development #1e) ‘Develop a co-teaching/team teaching instructional delivery model that fully utilizes and legitimizes the role of every adult in the (mathematics) classroom.’ What does this mean?

7)‘2a. Maintain the conceptual strength of the program, and integrate experiences that build procedural fluency.’ This presumes that our current curriculum has particular strength in conceptual instruction. How did Ms. Graham reach this conclusion?

8)Nowhere do I see a recognition that some (many?) students in our districts would benefit from explicit ‘instruction’ in math.

9)Perhaps I missed it in the document but I did not see anywhere a plan to develop district wide common (elementary) supplemental materials for our current curriculum Investigations. A pervasive problem (that I see) is that teachers supplement (to varying extents and success) Investigations. Teachers do it in various ways and with various materials. Is there a recommendation to standardize these efforts (at every grade level)? Essentially, whose job will it be to identify the weaknesses in Investigations and find appropriate supplementary material? The enormity and knowledge of math required for this crucial task should not be underestimated. (the section ‘Curriculum Elementary A. 1b. Develop district-wide supplemental materials, intervention strategies, and enrichment supports’ only addresses IF we adopt a NEW curriculum).

10) It is stated that Deborah Ball was consulted. FYI: She is listed as an advisor/consultant to the second edition of “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space.” Anyone think this might represent a conflict of interest? She may be biased in her opinions and advice offered? Was Ms. Graham aware of her association with Investigations?

My responses:

Anonymous 11:55 - just want to be clear that we can't assume 3rd grade is the problem at FR ... if math skills aren't adequately developed K to 2, then the 3rd grade teachers are obviously in a difficult situation.

Abbie - I agree with all you wrote. I would add that Beth Graham individually decided to eliminate from consideration by the textbook committee the two curriculum that have been shown in empirical research to be more effective than our current one (Saxon, Expressions), that parent members of the textbook review committee STILL haven't been contacted (since a January email inviting them to participate) although a meeting has been announced and is less than 10 days away, and that of Andrew Chen's 3 recommendations (#3 and #4 were two alternatives for increasing content knowledge) we are NOT implementing two of them (we aren't having better math teachers teach math, we aren't using Primary Math) and it isn't clear whether we are increasing content knowledge in math in a clear way for all teachers - such as by having HS teachers teach elementary/MS teachers more math. It is a depressing result of a nearly two year process - in which, once again, the Amherst district chooses to maintain the status quo.

It's there on page 15:

5. Let better math teachers teach math

One more time about the WWC and what it passes on. Saxon Math, for example, although in that study of FIRST GRADE ONLY, it had the 2nd best outcome, here's what the WWC has to say about the Saxon K-12 program as a whole: "Evidence of mixed or no discernable effects for all improvement outcomes." The reality is that just because some program is particularly strong at one grade does NOT mean it is equally or even nearly as good at other grades. I see no studies on Primary Math that meet WWC evidence criteria, nor even for Math Expressions as an elementary-grade-spanning program. So the fact that the committee is thinking very carefully about what the best curriculum to use is has my support (for what it's worth). My actual recommendation would be to not obsess over the "right" program, and simply choose Everyday Math if Investigations is to be ditched in the end, since that apparently has empirical evidence as a sound program across grades, and so it is a less agonizing, faster decision.

But in the end, teachers still need to get the right training, and enough of it, about math knowledge, working with helping students develop math knowledge, and working in math with culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

Ken, are the MCAS math scores of last year's third graders much lower than our third graders in previous years? Has there been a downward trend in these scores or is this just a big drop for that group?

If scores for last year's third graders are much lower than the usual, even with a bump up their score could still may be lower than the past 4th and 5th graders?

Are last years' third graders the first group to be taught and tested under the second Investigations?

Was that MCAS test harder than usual or is the test keep pretty even? (Did most other districts experience a big drop too?)

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I was just wondering if apples can be compared to apples.

Wondering--great questions. The one I can answer pretty certainly is whether last year's 3rd grade MCAS was harder. I doubt it. If it were, results across the state would generally have been low, and they weren't. Also, our 3rd grade scores last year were definitely lower than in the past.

Our MCAS math score trend has been to rise from 3rd to 5th and 6th. Will that continue? Who knows, but it is at least part of the context within which we can view these scores. But without access to data only the district has or could find, I can only raise questions that go towards answering the 3rd grade downturn--demographics? (did that student cohort have more challenging students for whatever reason; I do know that at least at FR, the %s of low income, SPED and ESL students was clearly higher than the previous 3rd grades there); more newer teachers at lower grades who were less trained in Investigations? (I have no idea, it's just a possibility); less consistent program implementation at lower grades for whatever reason? (again, I have no idea, it's a question I'd ask). One couldn't draw any firm conclusion about what the future might hold for that group or future groups of students without having a good grasp of what most likely caused the scores last year.

Those who don't like Investigations will say, "Duh, Ken, it's the program!" But with the same program, we had much higher scores in the past, so that, to me, is the least satisfactory and least informative conclusion. In order to "fix a problem," one first has to be able to accurately define it. I don't think the district has really done that yet.

Ken,

You should come to the math forum on Tuesday the 22nd. You could really help people out and you could ask some good questions too.

With math as with trimesters and our deliberately half-baked elementary foreign language program, the plan is simple: if we just talk this stuff to death, and evaluate it without doing anything, and bombard our critics with bureaucratic jargon, eventually the critics will get exhausted and slink off the field. If they take their kids with them, who cares?

We can wait these folks out, and go back to calling the shots the way we thought we were always entitled to. We'll belittle and marginalize their ideas as "top down reform" and if we just keep repeating it, with the limited time and energy people have to follow what's actually going on, eventually what we keep saying becomes the truth. We'll say that we're waiting for "buy in" when we have no intention of doing anything.

Patience is all it takes and it's already working. Repeat after me: the only thing that's wrong with Amherst schools is the "negative messaging" about them. Now say it again and again.

Can someone create a K-12 Math Action Plan for Dummies? It's so big it's hard to get it.

Ken (and others) - I'd just like to point out that the staffing K to 3 in Fort River has been very stable (and is considered very strong). Of the 12 teachers who taught these grades for the last 4 years (the entire time last year's 3rd graders were in the building), 8 were at FR the entire time (and had been for years) and 2 others had been at WW for a long time. The two teachers who weren't stable both were 1-year teachers (1 in K, 1 in 1st) so that would have had virtually no impact on 3rd grade MCAS scores. Thus, I don't see how it could be the teachers.

Could it be the kids in that cohort are different in some way? Sure.

Could it be that the long-awaited new version of Investigations isn't really very strong, and thus these kids lack basic math skills? Sure.

So, it is great that scores have tended to rise from 3rd to 6th ... but remember, this class has far lower 3rd grade scores than we've seen before -- so even if they rise, they may well not reach the same scores seen in prior years.

Catherine, I didn't wonder if "the teachers" were "the problem," I wondered if "training teachers" was. I wondered about implementation, which you didn't address. I didn't only ask about FR, I said in Amherst, though you only spoke about FR teachers. I raised all these as questions because I don't know. And as I have written to you in the past so I know you know, the student cohort is more challenging at FR at least because %s of low income, SPED and ESL students in this 3rd grade are pretty substantially greater than in previous years. So, student demographics is more than just a "could be" in FR's case--as you know, though didn't acknowledge. I have't looked at the other schools in this regard. that's why it's a question. Finally, the issue could be the "long awaited" version of Investigations (the way you went out your way to phrase it--"long awaited"--positively drips with contempt), though that would mean lowered scores since 2007-8 when the "long awaited" second version was first used in the system, but that's not been the case. Could it be that the K-2 version of the "long awaited" second version is not strong compared to other grades? Could be. That's I guess what the math committee needs to be deciding.

Anyway, Catherine, my main point in response to Wondering's questions about 3rd grade was that the problem hasn't been successfully identified yet (as far as I know), and that it seems as though it would be important to identify the problem before deciding on a solution. For some reason, you don't seem to agree that that approach is valid.

Anon 11:13:

Hysterical! I'm laughing, I'm crying.

It's the negative messaging...It's the negative messaging...

It's the negative messaging...

From Dr. Chen's report re: elementary math in amherst:

Weaknesses: The use of a curriculum product that is too demanding on K-5 teachers in Amherst. Classroom observations documented good pedagogy in general. In most cases, the math program did actively engage students but failed to challenge most students. Low mathematics learning was observed in most elementary classrooms visited. Pelham teachers in upper grades use an eclectic approach in assembling curriculum material and in classroom interaction. Student learning appeared to be better.

----

His recommendation:

2. Replace Investigations II with Primary Mathematics (Standards Edition, from Singapore) for grades K-5. Primary Mathematics (PM) uses a Concrete --> Pictorial --> Abstract approach; it also emphasizes mental math and model drawing. [Cautionary Note]v

Compared to Investigations II, PM is

Easier for teachers to use

More rigorous—no repetition from year to year

Faster paced

Higher mathematics density

Less language dependent

Better balance of skills, concepts, and problem solving

Better aligned with the Common Core Standards

Clearer and more logical progression of topics

Less textbook-specific PD required

Easier for teachers to learn mathematics content deeply

Less distracting

Easier to Carry

Thanks for the review of Dr Chen's recs, Anon 9:33. It is unfortunate that Beth Graham is ignoring this advice - especially because this curriculum could potentially address the achievement gap (less language dependent) and address the issue of some ES teachers not being strong in math content (Less textbook-specific PD required & Easier for teachers to learn mathematics content deeply).

My guess is that she was lobbied by individuals from the hilltowns who do not want to change their textbooks in response to Amherst changing - so again we are allowing the hilltowns to call the shots.

Anon 10am said: "My guess is that she was lobbied by individuals from the hilltowns who do not want to change their textbooks in response to Amherst changing - so again we are allowing the hilltowns to call the shots."

First, it makes no difference to the hilltowns what ES math curriculum is used in Amherst. And it makes no difference to Amherst what is used in the hilltowns. The hilltowns have never been a consideration in terms of what math text book to use. It is hoped that all students arrive at the Middle School prepared for MS math. But whether they are prepared or not is not dependent on what curriculum is used.

Second, because you make a personal assumption about the hilltowns re math curriculum, you then state as fact that Amherst is allowing the hilltowns to call the shots. That is unbelievably presumptious of you.

And third, this us vs them is a false dichotomy. Do the readers of this blog really believe all of us, in Leverett, Shutesbury, Amherst and Pelham don't want the best education for our students? Do you honestly believe Amherst parents care more about the education of their children then Leverett, Shutesbury or Pelham? Do you really believe Leverett and Shutesbury folks care what math curriculum Amherst is using?

More on Dr. Chen suggestions:

1. Let better mathematics teachersiii in elementary schools teach more mathematics classes. This focused approach will allow teachers strong in mathematics to impact more math students and free up other teachers so they can have more time to prepare and teach non- math subjects better. There is a strong national movement in this direction.

3. Support teachers of mathematics in elementary schools and the Middle school with

intensive content training. It is crucial to know that upgrading the textbook alone is

helpful but not enough. To produce dramatic improvement in student learning, this

recommendation must be followed. Stronger content knowledge (CK) allows teachers

to be more flexible with pedagogy and to have more capacity to diagnose and challenge

all students. Teachers need to know mathematics well enough to quickly understand

student thinking on the spot to adequately challenge low performing, regular, and high

performing students. Elementary and middle school teachers should be trained in

mathematics content that is at least 2-3 grades higher than what they teach. They should

also be trained in pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). PCK discussions should emerge organically in CK context, not the other way around. That means these courses for

teachers should be content-driven, not pedagogy-driven. Courses centered around

understanding student work, which may touch upon some content, are considered

pedagogy-driven. The content support should be ongoing since it takes time and

sustained effort to acquire solid content knowledge. This recommendation is the most

substantial of all, in terms of its duration, funds required and commitment. A productive

low-cost alternative to serve teachers’ content need is described next in Recommendation

4.

organically in CK context, not the other way around. That means these courses for

teachers should be content-driven, not pedagogy-driven. Courses centered around

4. Build an embedded self-sustained mathematics learning community. This

recommendation is the most ambitious and potentially the most rewarding long-

term task to take on. It is a highly desirable and much cheaper option for carrying out

Recommendation #3. The in-house talents in the High School should be tapped into to

address the mathematics content knowledge needs of lower grade teachers. On the other

hand, any desirable pedagogy in the lower grades should be introduced to the middle/high

school teachers. The districts should create a structure to encourage high school math

teachers to understand elementary and middle school teachers’ content knowledge needs,

and to learn about inquiry-based pedagogy. The learning can be accomplished through

substantive classroom observations, down-to-earth discussions, and other collaborative

mechanisms. The professional relationship thus formed can lead to teachers running

substantive courses/workshops for fellow teachers. In effect, the district is investing in

developing in-house capacity in providing content-based training.

"Do the readers of this blog really believe all of us, in Leverett, Shutesbury, Amherst and Pelham don't want the best education for our students? Do you honestly believe Amherst parents care more about the education of their children then Leverett, Shutesbury or Pelham? Do you really believe Leverett and Shutesbury folks care what math curriculum Amherst is using?"

I know for a fact that a member of the Shutesbury SC spoke publicly against Amherst changing math textbooks and made efforts to undermine people's confidence in the math consultant. So, yeah, I do believe that the hilltowns care about what curriculum Amherst uses.

The other 2 questions you are asking are ridiculous. Of course all the towns want a quality education for their kids.

My main point is that Amherst has very different needs because we serve a diverse population (in terms of SES, race, & English language skills). If a new curriculum can help us bridge the achievement gap - then we should do it and not care about what members of the Shutesbury SC think about our change. And this an example of how sharing admins with towns that have different needs does not work well for Amherst.

It's not an us vs them sentiment -- it is a FACT that the students we serve in Amherst have different needs. Don't take it so personally.

More on Dr. Chen suggestions:

1. Let better mathematics teachers in elementary schools teach more mathematics classes. This focused approach will allow teachers strong in mathematics to impact more math students and free up other teachers so they can have more time to prepare and teach non- math subjects better. There is a strong national movement in this direction....

3. Support teachers of mathematics in elementary schools and the Middle school with

intensive content training. It is crucial to know that upgrading the textbook alone is

helpful but not enough. To produce dramatic improvement in student learning, this

recommendation must be followed. Stronger content knowledge (CK) allows teachers

to be more flexible with pedagogy and to have more capacity to diagnose and challenge

all students. Teachers need to know mathematics well enough to quickly understand

student thinking on the spot to adequately challenge low performing, regular, and high

performing students. Elementary and middle school teachers should be trained in

mathematics content that is at least 2-3 grades higher than what they teach. They should

also be trained in pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). PCK discussions should emerge organically in CK context, not the other way around. That means these courses for

teachers should be content-driven, not pedagogy-driven. Courses centered around

understanding student work, which may touch upon some content, are considered

pedagogy-driven. The content support should be ongoing since it takes time and sustained effort to acquire solid content knowledge. This recommendation is the most substantial of all, in terms of its duration, funds required and commitment. A productive low-cost alternative to serve teachers’ content need is described next in Recommendation

4.

4. Build an embedded self-sustained mathematics learning community. This

recommendation is the most ambitious and potentially the most rewarding long-

term task to take on. It is a highly desirable and much cheaper option for carrying out

Recommendation #3. The in-house talents in the High School should be tapped into to

address the mathematics content knowledge needs of lower grade teachers. On the other

hand, any desirable pedagogy in the lower grades should be introduced to the middle/high school teachers. The districts should create a structure to encourage high school math teachers to understand elementary and middle school teachers’ content knowledge needs, and to learn about inquiry-based pedagogy. The learning can be accomplished through substantive classroom observations, down-to-earth discussions, and other collaborative mechanisms. The professional relationship thus formed can lead to teachers running substantive courses/workshops for fellow teachers. In effect, the district is investing in developing in-house capacity in providing content-based training.

One Shutesbury school committee member doesn't represent all the residents of the hilltowns any more then one blog post represents every who posts. But there does seem to be an Amherst/hilltowns split among most of the regional school committee members. And almost no dialogue on hilltown committee members about how to close the achievement gap.

Is the use of math coaches evidence-based?

This the biggest hire of new staff in years. What's behind it?

I completely agree with anon 2:50.

Look, the reality is that the Hilltowns chose the superintendent. They were vocal, lobbied and used bullying tactics to get what they wanted.

I'm not sure why Beth Graham and company are completely disregarding the Chen report, it is very discouraging.

Ken

I admire your fortitude. You seem to be a very bright guy, with a lot of detailed knowledge of several topics that come under consideration here, and someone who strives for a reasonably polite level of give and take.

Yet, you find yourself having words put in your mouth and your ideas twisted to the wind.

Find solace in the fact you are not alone.

And is there dialogue on the Amherst SC members about how to close the achievement gap? I've never heard any discussion at all by the Amherst members about how to close the achievement gap. Only that it needs to be done. Does anyone here go to the Leverett or Shutesbury School Committee meetings? No? Then how do you know that they don't discuss the achievement gap at their meetings?

Secondly, it is not up to the SC to figure out how to close the achievement gap, hence, there is no need for them to discuss how to do it, either at the Amherst level or at the hilltown level.

March 22nd public meeting to discuss the K-12 Math Action Plan, 7 p.m., Town Hall

Dr. Chen's math report was released on November 5th, 2010. Last week, the Director of Curriculum released her "K-12 Math Program Review 2010-2011: Recommendations and Action Plan." There has been no time for public comment between the Tuesday release on the plan and Superintendent Maria Geryk's acceptance of all recommendations.

The members of the Amherst School Committee saw the need for a public meeting to discuss the math action plan that will guide the district for the next 5 years. They voted unanimously to hold a public meeting on the Math Action plan and elementary this Tuesday, March 22nd at 7 p.m. in the Town Room. Please come. Find out more about the Math Action Plan and offer your ideas and views. I think the format will be to talk about the math action plan, hear some of the thinking that went into it and a general discussion for parents to talk about the plan and ask questions. And I also hope that Dr. Chen's findings and recommendations also will be discussed..

Read the K-12 Math Action Plan before the meeting. It is long and hard to put your arms around (which is actually one of my concerns since it seems like it will be hard to implement and track). Here are some things that stood out:

•hiring 4.5 math coaches for each elementary school,

•hiring a K-8 math leadership position for mathematics

•to continue using Investigations for next year, with supplementation to patch up Investigations recognized weakness in "computational and procedural fluency,"

•setting up a textbook committee to review already several elementary math curriculum

•many professional development activities, including offering graduate math courses to teachers

•using RTI (Response to Intervention) assessment to see how students are actually doing and whether they are advancing

•testing 6th graders for placement in 7th grade honors algebra or regular 7th grade math.

There is still no plan to offer a regular algebra course (which is different than the current honors Algebra) to 7th and 8th graders. No acceleration pathways for elementary students are specifically created (a Dr. Chen recommendation). No budget numbers are included but the Superintendent thought the math coaches would be covered by grants.

The Math Action Plan defers for future study:

•selection of a (possible) new elementary math curriculum by a textbook committee (just starting now, planning to be done by June)

•Dr. Chen's recommendation to let the better math teachers teach math to elementary students

•using a team teaching approach

•grouping practices in grades 5-9

•identifying "structures and policies specifically aimed at closing the achievement gap"

The reports, and where to find them:

Beth Graham's March 1, 2011 K-12 Math Program Review 2010-2011: Recommendations and Action Plan -- arps.org/reports

Dr. Chen's Nov. 5th Comprehensive K-12 Mathematics Program Review for Amherst-Pelham Regional School District -- arps.org/reports

Beth Graham's November 4 memo on K-12 Math Review -- arps.org/reports

School Committee Policy IL on Evaluation of Instructional Programs -- www.arps.org/policy/IL

Beth Graham's proposed schedule for math review cycle under Policy IL-- www.arps.org/node/2669

Beth Graham's proposed schedules for all subject areas under Policy IL -- www.arps.org/node/2669

Janet

What's up on the timing aspect of the math action plan?

Earlier meetings and charts of program review schedules had the district moving toward wrapping up Phase 1 (the needs assessment phase) and 2 (the planning phase) by the end of May. This follows the formula of Policy IL. Phase 3 (the full implementation) would start in June 2011.

But at the Wednesday Amherst School Commmittee meeting, Beth Graham said Phase 1 was beginning and the Math Action Plan itself contains many Phase 1 and 2 actions, as well as Phase 3 actions. No dates on anything.

Can someone clear this up?

the other Janet

I don't think the phased in the Action Plan correspond to the phases of Policy IL reviews.

Thanks Ken, for offering factual analysis of the situation. It's very refreshing. Beth Graham tried to answer Catherine's questions about why Saxon wasn't considered (with similar concerns about the one year sample of 1st graders sited in the WWC results) at the SC meeting. Turns out, that sample consisted of a high percentage of underprivileged kids that they were intentionally using the Saxon skill and drill approach with in order to try to bring them quickly up to speed. Ms. Graham commented (repeatedly) that a strictly skill and drill approach, such as Saxon, does not fit with Amherst's broader mission educationally (in terms of encouraging deep conceptual understanding as opposed to more strictly rote types of learning). Unfortunately that explanation fell on deaf ears (as far as Catherine's in concerned).

Anonymous 7:36 - unfortunately Ms. Graham was wrong -- this was a random assignment study in which schools were assigned to use a particular curriculum, and the kids in this sample are actually lower in terms of the % of low income kids than our current kindergarteners. So, schools in this study didn't get to choose the curriculum they used, and the populations are virtually identical to ours. Nonetheless, I'm still surprised that Ms. Graham deliberately chose to eliminate even for consideration not only Saxon (which was indeed shown to be quite effective) but also Math Expressions (which was also shown to be quite effective and is a curriculum that balances skill/drill and conceptual understanding). I hope you'll take the time to actually read the study before misinterpreting my comments.

Catherine, I don't know if this thread is still being followed, but I want to respond here. Beth Graham may have been wrong about how she characterized the use of Saxon math in that study (I have no idea, as I wasn't there, so I'm going on hearsay), but she was not wrong about the more important point, which is that Saxon math is heavily drill and computation-oriented. To consider it would be going against one of Dr. Chen's important recommendations (and one supported by all recent thinking about math instruction) which is that a "balanced approach" between concepts building and mechanical fluency with numbers is needed. Saxon math also requires significantly more math instruction (in the study, 1 hour per week more)--the fact you keep raising it as an issue because the committee isn't considering it makes me wonder whether that is because it is an easy way to bash the committee, and/or a way to continue to bash the "long awaited" second edition of Investigations, or because you are advocating 30-35 hours more of math instruction a year and a heavily number drill approach. I don't know enough about ME to make any comments about it.

About that study, one other grain of salt other than the 1-grade span of it is just the issue you raised, namely, the random assignment of curriculum to schools in the study. As Dr. Chen and others have noted, investigations is a complex program requiring a lot of teacher training to be done well. My question about that study is, were the teachers who were given the program to use sufficiently trained? I did not see anything about that in the WWC write-up about the study, and don't recall details from the study itself which I read a while ago. That is an important variable. Assuming appropriate in-depth training to use that program was not a part of a randomized study like that, this is the most we can conclude: Looking at just one grade in the elementary span of grades, ME and Saxon outperformed Investigations when teachers may have been insufficiently trained to use Investigations, and Saxon math had approximately 30-35 hours per year more instruction time than students in the Investigations group. What a rousing endorsement of ME and Saxon over Investigations for a K-5 math program!

That said, I again would recommend that in the name of expedience, politics and the WWC research base, that the district change to Everyday Math, with sufficient teacher training.

Post a Comment