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Columbia Missourian

Columbia Public Schools’ math curriculum deliberation continues

By STEPHANIE CALL AND CAROLINE EVANS
September 18, 2008 | 7:07 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - Changes to Columbia Public Schools' math curriculum brought more than 60 people to the school board work session on Thursday morning. More than half of the 2 1/2-hour meeting was spent discussing the curriculum standards, which are still being refined for the board's approval next month.

The district works on a6-year cycle to assess curriculum, and is now in the revision stage for curriculum standards for math, physical education and health sciences. The standards were formulated using both state and national standards by a 36-member committee made up of teachers, school administrators, university professors, parents and other community members.

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The document, as it stands, was posted to the district Web site six months ago for the public to review. Discussion within the committee has centered on the differences between teaching children traditional algorithms and alternative strategies. For example, under the current curriculum, students learn how to tell time over a period of five years, beginning in kindergarten. They learn to tell time to the hour, then to the half-hour, then quarter-hour, then to within five minutes and finally to the minute in fourth grade. In the new curriculum, students would learn to tell time completely in third grade.

Parent Michelle Pruitt said she's concerned that there is too much emphasis on understanding math concepts in the revised standards and not enough emphasis on traditional math algorithms. She said that in the revised curriculum standards, the term "conceptual understanding," which refers to math concepts, was used twice as many times as "procedural fluency," which refers to the traditional math skills. She hopes they will be used equally in the approved curriculum.

The revised math standards will go before the board at its next meeting on Oct. 13. If approved, the standards would be used to update the math curriculum taught in kindergarten through fifth grade, and grades six through eight.

"There seems to be a distinct left and a distinct right in this argument," said Bob Borst, a Smithton Middle School math coach,after the meeting. "In the middle are teachers and kids, and I don't think everyone is listening. We need to get our community back on board."

Also at the work session, the board approved health science and physical education curricula with relatively little discussion. The board briefly discussed the superintendent selection process. Interim superintendent Jim Ritter had sent information to the board members about four search firms, including one run by Bob Watkins and the Missouri School Boards' Association. He said that Watkins' firm, one the board used when it hired Phyllis Chase in 2003, is the most affordable. Board members agreed that Ritter should invite Watkins to speak to the board in more detail about the firm's process at the meeting Oct. 13.