Math task force recommends new K-12 advisory unit

The advisory board would remain intact for more than a year.
Friday, May 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Creation of a K-12 math advisory board, which would include parents, business leaders and MU faculty, is among the recommendations of Columbia Public Schools’ Secondary Mathematics Task Force.

The task force also said the district should continue to offer both algebra and integrated math to high school students.

The recommendations, presented Thursday to the Columbia School Board, are part of a routine five-year report on sixth- through 12th-grade math in the district. They follow a review that began in October and included three public forums.

How math is taught is a point of tension right now among some parents, teachers and administrators. The district teaches traditional, or algebra, math in which students learn basic algorithms and step-by-step problem-solving and newer integrated math that emphasizes creative problem-solving applicable to real-world situations.

The advisory board would not be a second task force; rather, it would remain intact for more than a year, and members would serve limited terms, said Chip Sharp, who coordinates secondary math for the district and gave the task force report.

“The committee’s role won’t be as much on evaluating the curriculum,” Sharp said. “It’s more about understanding the importance of what students are able to do. We want to produce individuals that are ready to be citizens.”

The advisory board is part of a recommendation to “improve communication with CPS stakeholders.” The recommendations also include continued quality professional development and collection of data on student proficiency in math.

The task force was made up of 22 teachers, administrators and community members. Sharp said the group found:

n More Columbia Public School students in grades 10 through 12 are taking math, and more math students are “on level,” meaning they are in the math course appropriate for their grade.

n Columbia students do better than their counterparts in Missouri and the U.S. in the math portion of the Missouri Assessment Program and ACT college entrance exam.

n Being proficient in math involves more than knowing the steps to solving problems.

“In general, I think it’s pretty clear that in this country, we’ve focused pretty narrowly on procedures,” Sharp said later. “Students need to encounter opportunities both with math procedures and with how to apply those concepts.”

After hearing Sharp’s presentation, Ines Segert, who has a child in sixth grade and another in ninth grade, said she was glad to hear the recommendation to keep the algebra track as an option in high school. But Segert said she also had some major concerns with the task force’s report.

“I thought the data they presented for integrated math was selective, and he did not present the appropriate comparison group,” she said. “It was made to look better than it was.”

In talking to the board, Sharp made the case that students perform comparably well whether they are taking integrated or algebra math and that slightly higher test performance by algebra math students isn’t significant enough to matter.

Segert said she thought Sharp discounted test scores as trivial, but to her, “higher scores are higher scores,” and for students who want to advance to post-secondary education “scores do matter.”

She said she thought the data was slanted because it did not include any test scores from before the current math curriculum, which includes integrated math, was implemented.

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Ines Segert May 25, 2007 | 6:07 a.m.

I'd like to present a few more specific examples which show that Mr. Sharp is discounting the poorer performance of students in the integrated track. Seniors in the integrated track score a full 5 points lower than those in the algerbra track. This is a very significant, not slight, decrease.

Also, he presented data claiming to show that ACT scores overall have been unchanged since 2003 - averaging about 23. Yet, when you compare ACT of students now with those before the curriculum changes, the current scores are lower. Similarly for the percent of first year college students who enroll in remedial college math- it has increased from low single digits to up to 20%.

So, yes, this is comparable to other districts in MO, but much worse for Columbia . We can not overllok the fact that by objective standards- performance on ACT, MAP tests- our students are doing worse on the integrated track. The main question should not be whether we keep the algebra track, but why are we keeping a curriculum that is not serving our children.

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