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Clarification of middle school math changes
By Tom Drake (Crossett Brook Middle School), Lisa Atwood (Harwood Union), Sheila Rivers, Brigid Scheffert (Washington West Supervisory Union)
To the WWSU community:
Many of you have most likely heard about change coming to the eighth-grade math program at Crossett Brook Middle School and Harwood Union Middle School, and we would like to take this opportunity to clarify what these changes entail.
The changes that we announced in mid-March included all eighth-graders taking the Connected Math 2 (CMP2) class. Additionally, for those who qualified for and chose to take the class, algebra 1 would be offered via an online format through the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative. The online algebra 1 class work would mostly be completed outside the school day, with support by school staff in regularly scheduled meetings within the school day.
Our current offerings for eighth-grade math include face-to-face classes for algebra 1, for those who qualify and choose to take this class, or CMP2 for those who do not. The CMP2 curriculum was adopted into our supervisory union beginning in the 2009-2010 school year, and our desire to have all eighth-graders take the CMP2 class stems directly from our experience with this rich and engaging curriculum that truly brings solid context and depth to mathematics.
We never considered doing away with the algebra option for those eighth-graders who proved ready for this content, and the combination of CMP2 for all and additional e-learning for some seemed to be a good combination that would help to make smarter mathematicians across the eighth grade. Indeed, we felt very strongly that offering the e-learning option was an exciting opportunity to further this growing mode of learning in a sensible and supported manner.
The depth and breadth of the reaction to the news of this change from parents has been significant, with themes surfacing regarding the perceived unreasonableness in asking the algebra 1 students to double-up in math and the time constraints involved with this, and the perceived unrealistic expectation that eighth-graders would be able to learn independently in an e-learning format.
Input has been offered via numerous emails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, letters to the editor and most recently a Facebook page focused on this topic. We have thoughtfully considered the feedback that has come directly or indirectly to us, and we have considered a revised program change, with the hope of satisfying these four goals: 1) Give all eighth-graders the opportunity to take CMP2; 2) Continue to offer the opportunity to complete algebra 1 in eighth grade for those who qualify; 3) Keep the math work, with the exception of homework, largely within the school day; and 4) Avoid scheduling conflicts with math and other classes, meaning that all students should be able to take advantage of all other classes including band, chorus, art, etc. With a set school day and full plate of course offerings, constructing a change that would meet all four of these parameters has proven challenging.
After much concerted effort, with a primary focus on what is best for student learning while also being responsive to community feedback, we think we have found a viable solution.
This solution lies in the fact that the eighth-grade CMP2 is very heavy in algebra 1 concepts. We will shortly be undertaking what educators call a “vertical curriculum alignment” between CMP2 and algebra 1, in order to determine which algebra 1 concepts are not covered in the CMP2 content.
Once we have determined the gaps, we will fill these gaps through a combination of weekly “Algebra Seminars” facilitated by school staff, together with online resources through sites such as the Khan Academy. The seminars will happen during the school day, which will cause a once-a-week conflict with another class. There will be work expected outside the school day, but not nearly to the extent that there would be with a complete algebra 1 class completed outside of school hours. The conflict with one class per week, while not ideal, is a relatively small compromise within the larger picture. Lastly, the online content allows us to follow through on the goal of increased e-learning opportunities.
We have been highly engaged over the past few years in strengthening mathematics instruction in all grades throughout the WWSU. These programmatic adjustments will further this goal. There are other flexible options in grades 9 through 12 that allow students to complete calculus by graduation. The administrative team remains open to all parent feedback and we will continue to bring understanding and flexibility to finding solutions as we progress in developing more rigorous, standards-based learning opportunities for our students.
On May 3, from 6 to 7 p.m., in the Harwood Union High School library, we will be hosting a public meeting to further outline the eighth-grade math program. We welcome all interested community members to this meeting.
With thanks for your continued support of our public schools,
Lisa Atwood (HUMS/HUHS principal), Tom Drake (CBMS principal), Sheila Rivers (WWSU director of curriculum, assessment and instruction), Brigid Scheffert (WWSU superintendent).