A report to be presented to the District 65 school board tonight says middle-school students using three different math textbooks get about the same results on standardized tests.

The report, from Curriculum Coordinator Suzanne Farrand, says there were “no consistent differences” in results for kids who used the “Everyday Math,” the “Math Thematics” or the “Connected Math Project” text series.

The schools started the trial of the differenct books in 2008 based on split opinions among the teaching staff about which books to use.

Farrand says the test of the texts will continue for another two years before a decision is made about whether to standardize on a single book series.

The report also says teachers are finding “increased parent anxiety” about introducing students to algebra as early as 7th grade.

The report says that not all students are ready for algebra work that early, and that, particularly for students not interested in science, technology, engineering or math careers, the early introduction to algebra may do more harm than good.

The report also argues for expanding the offering of honors geometry at the middle schools, and claims that parents who want their middle-school students to travel to the high school for the class mainly want the youngsters to get high school credit for the work so they won’t have to take as much math when they’re in high school.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Math report is wrong
    “The report also argues for expanding the offering of honors geometry at the middle schools, and claims that parents who want their middle-school students to travel to the high school for the class mainly want the youngsters to get high school credit for the work so they won’t have to take as much math when they’re in high school.”

    Wrong. My eighth grader attends the high school for honors geometry instruction because the geometry instruction at the high school is better than anything District 65 could possibly provide.

    Some of this is due to inherent weaknesses of District 65 (an overemphasis on meeting group goals on the dumbed-down ISAT test), and some of it is due to not having a critical mass of honors geometry students at any single D65 school.

    For similar reasons, we found honors algebra instruction at District 65 to be uneven.

    I will agree that many children are not ready for Algebra in 7th grade; however, the District is misguided in requiring that all students spend a double-period every single day on grade-level math. For a vast majority of students in this district, it’s way more time than is needed. The extra time is not being put to good use.

    I also wonder why both the grade school and the high school object so strenuously to students accelerating their math work to finish it sooner. ETHS has terrific course offerings; finishing math “early” may free up time in a student’s schedule for other worthwhile academic pursuits. If a child wants to stop math after calculus, it is that family’s business, and certainly not D65’s.

    1. Perplexed about D65 Infatuation with Geometry
      I am curious why D65 is revisiting the current Geometry Program and wonder if there is another agenda – any thoughts ?
      Our family’s experience with Geometry at ETHS was exceptional and John Benson is truly one of our nation’s best teachers. He has created a PROGRAM of excellence which is difficult and costly to replicate. Yes, there are many capable teachers at D65, but the consistency of executing a high quality geometry experience at multiple middle schools over time is questionable. D65 is confronting many issues and continues to have many opportunities to improve the educational experience for all students yet the administration and board are spending time on a relatively small program that seems to be working well. Why?
      While i admire D65’s commitment to continuous improvement, i would suggest that there are many other higher priority issues to address than changing the Geometry Program. Issues to focus our scarce resources upon include :
      – Differentiated Instruction – is it consistently and effectively being implemented?
      – Upgrading quality of teaching staff (there are many great teachers in D65, but still opportunities to improve)
      – Improve recruitment process for principals – why has there been so much turnover at King Lab and Kingsley over last decade?
      – Enhance/improve leadership training for principals
      – Create a partnership with greater Evanston community (recent announcement re: reading with younger students and Evanston Library is a great idea and more opportunities like this should be pursued – i.e. how does D65 interact with Northwestern University and how a can a more productive partnership be developed?
      – Develop a more cooperative relationship between D65 & D202 to provide a more “seemless” transition for students – the schools exist to prepare all our children to be successful after graduating from ETHS – it should not be a “job bank” for those fortunate to obtain employment at either district.
      HUGE opportunities exist in this area – if there was truly a partnership between districts all students would be better prepared for success at D202, and beyond, and taxpayers would save money
      – Improve educational experience for children and their families who have learning disabilities
      – Expand foreign language to 6th grade (it’s been scientifically proven that it’s easier for people to learn another language at a younger age – bilingual skills are increasingly important in the 21st century) Are D65 and D202 foreign language departments fully aligned ?
      – Provide more writing and public speaking opportunties for students (again, important skills for the 21st century)
      – Improve both district’s use of technology. We’ve spent a lot of money on technology, but is it being fully and effectively utilized?

      That’s 10 issues which seem more important than taking time to change Geometry. The list can go on. Please add your thoughts.

  2. Early algebra is great
    Years ago, I was the first student in my district to take Algebra in seventh grade. It was a big boost for me. I applaud school districts that are offering Algebra earlier. Traditional middle school math repeats the same curriculum every year, which is sure to discourage everyone.

    Algebra is the starting point for abstract thinking. Traditional middle school math does not prepare for that leap. The earlier curriculum moves from memorization to thinking, the better. Sure, many students will not master it the first time, but if they start earlier they will have more chances to try again.

    I also support giving students some flexibility. It was the willingness of an administrator to let me bend the rules that gave me a chance to take Algebra earlier. It should be possible for students to choose a path that does not emphasize Algebra if they really want to.

    Parent anxiety should never stop curricular improvements. In fact, anxious parents should be careful to avoid teaching their children to be anxious about math. Such influences from parents and teachers who are afraid of math may predestine some students to failure.

  3. Anxiety among algebra parents?
    I think D65’s perception of increased anxiety among parents may be attributable to the concerns parents have about the highly variable quality of instruction that kids are getting, combined with an ominously-described, totally inflexible criterion used to determine student success.

    My daughter is a current 7th grader in the program. She constantly comes home telling of warnings that the classes receive that they will be eliminated from the program unless they obtain a certain score on the exam. Meanwhile, very little teaching appears to be taking place in her class (many parents as a result need to supplement with outside help) and the teacher has had an inordinate number of absences at key times during the year.

    I’m not anxious, but I am very disappointed in the way this program is being executed. It could be so much better.

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