Rumormongering

When I founded this blog I promised myself that I would do my best not to spread unsubstantiated rumors and that I’d research issues before publishing them so as to not stir pots with incorrect information.  Please forgive me as I take a step back from that commitment with this next article.

As some of you are aware, the school division recently adopted new math textbooks, which are supposed to be used in division classrooms starting this Fall (2012).   The school board approved McGraw Hill’s Math Connects for kindergarten through grade 8, which is the reason for this article.

Rumor has it that the division is considering a phased implementation of Math Connects rather than implementing the textbooks in all grade levels in the Fall.  The rumored justification for the phased implementation is cost.  Word on the street is the school division simply does not have sufficient funds available to purchase 40,000 + new math textbooks in one year. Our BOCS has not approved the school division’s budget, yet, and might be interested to know that the budget just might not have enough money available for our children to be given state approved textbooks, even with the state kicking in a chunk of the cost of those textbooks.

Here’s the second part of the rumor.

Central office staff are apparently considering phasing-in Math Connects by implementing it in Grades 6 – 8 and K – 1 in the Fall, with grades 2 & 3 following in the Fall of 2013 and grades 4 & 5 in the Fall of 2014.

Assuming this is true, that’s a very bad decision, in my opinion.

The value of using a K – 8 series is the consistency between elementary and middle school because the 6th grade textbook picks up where the 5th grade textbook ended.  That doesn’t happen right now, and, as a result, our middle school teachers are having to teach concepts and procedures to our children that they should have learned in elementary school.

The phasing the school division is considering would keep those gaps in place until the Fall of 2015 when the first grade of Math Connects students hit middle school.

Math Investigations, the instructional program PWCS is currently following in elementary school, was not submitted to the VA DOE for review and has not been evaluated for content alignment with the 2009 VA SOLS.  As such, it is not recommended by the VA DOE for use in VA elementary schools.  The phasing the division is reportedly considering means that students currently in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades will be using math textbooks that have not been evaluated for content alignment with the current VA SOLs and are not recommended by the VA DOE.  These students will continue to use non-SOL aligned, non-state approved textbooks until they reach middle school.

One note.  The division did phase-in Math Investigations.  During the phase-in students continued to use the old SFAW textbooks.  The difference between then and now is that the old SFAW books had been reviewed by the VA DOE for content alignment with the VA SOLs and were recommended for use in Virginia schools.  So no PWCS student ever used a textbook that was not recommended by the VA DOE, at least not until they started using Math Investigations in 5th grade as Math Investigations was never recommended by the VA DOE for use in 5th grade, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

In this instance, the division appears to be considering allowing students to be taught with materials that are not recommended by the VA DOE and have not been evaluated against the VA SOLs. And they’ll be using those non-state approved, non-SOL aligned textbooks in SOL test years.

Did I mention that I thought the suggested phasing-in was poorly thought through?

In my opinion, if we have to phase in the new textbooks then we should do it in reverse order.  If we can afford a 2 year phase-in, then do grades 3 – 8 in the Fall of 2012 with kindergarten – 2nd grade following in the Fall of 2013.  That way the gaps between ES & MS can begin to be addressed and our children will be using textbooks that have been evaluated against the VA SOLs and are recommended by the VA DOE in their SOL test years.

If we have to do a 3 year phase-in then do grades 4 – 8 in the Fall of 2012, with 2nd and 3rd grades following in the Fall of 2013, and kindergarten and 1st grade going last in the Fall of 2014.  We’ll be able to begin addressing the gaps between ES & MS and, with the exception of our third graders, most of our children will be using textbooks that have been evaluated against the VA SOLs and are recommended by the VA DOE in their SOL test years.

There are two other fairly significant reasons for inverting the phase-in and starting with the upper grades, assuming a phase-in is required.

  • Math Investigations adequately met about half of the 2001 math SOLs for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, per the VA DOE evaluations.  That means that our current instructional program is heavily supplemented with materials from other sources. The 2009 SOLs, against which Math Investigations has not been evaluated, are more rigorous than the 2001 SOLs, per the VA DOE’s statements.   Math Connects adequately meets all of the more rigorous 2009 VA SOLs for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades (it also adequately meets the more rigorous 2009 SOLs for kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades).
  • There are content and procedural gaps between Math Investigations and Math Connects, and those gaps build every year.  The gaps don’t become significant until students move from 3rd to 4th grades.   Transitioning from a Math Investigations based 2nd grade program to a Math Connects based 3rd grade program will be a lot easier than transitioning from a Math Investigations based 5th grade program to a Math Connects based 6th grade program.

If we have to phase-in the new textbooks, we ought to consider starting with the upper grades.

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4 Responses to “Rumormongering”

  1. ed Says:

    It would be nice if the math department came out with a statement on what they plan to do so that the whole process is more open this time.

    • pwceducationreform Says:

      I agree! I’ve heard from a number of teachers who are curious, and a little nervous, about what the division has planned. It’s been almost 2 months since the board approved connects, so I’m not sure why there hasn’t been any communication. Even the Math page on the PWCS web site hasn’t been updated.

  2. Concerned Mom Says:

    So, are you saying that some PWCS will get to learn math using state approved texts and some won’t? Just because the staff and the school board don’t want to use the materials the state and the board approved…or just don’t want to pay for them? Wouldn’t that mean they’d have to buy more of the old stuff that’s not approved? Will this apply to all PWCS districts and schools or only certain ones? Isn’t this against the law; don’t they have to ensure students have approved textbooks?

    Why can’t PWCS get this right, are they getting kickbacks from the Math Investigations company???!!!

    • KimS Says:

      Concerned Mom – Yes to all of your questions.

      Depending on how the division chooses to phase-in Connects, the kids in the grades that are still using Investigations will be using materials that have not been evaluated against the state SOLs and are not state recommended. If the division chooses to go with the phasing we’ve heard they’re considering, that means our current 3rd, 4th, ad 5th grade students will continue to use Investigations and will not be using state approved textbooks until they reach middle school. That means that the schools that purchase the Investigations consumable materials, namely the blue and white workbooks, will continue to purchase those materials.

      The rumor we’ve heard is that the division has proposed phasing Connects in because it lacks the resources to purchase the teacher materials and textbooks for 40,000 + students in one year. Textbooks are expensive and the state only subsidizes a portion of the cost, so cost is most definitely a factor.

      Because this is just a rumor we’ve heard from several different sources, we don’t have a lot of details about how it will be implemented, assuming the rumor is true. With regards to state laws – schools are allowed to use whatever textbooks they want whether they’re recommended by the VA DOE or not. They just have to have the textbooks they’re using approved by the local school board.

      I think this is something our school board ought to look into, because I believe the rumored phasing is so poorly thought through. I also have concerns about the pacing guides for elementary and middle school, which teachers are required to follow. The pacing guides describe which lessons must be completed in what order to tie in with benchmark testing the division does, but the guides were written in such a way that the teachers are hopping all over the books instead of starting at the beginning and working through to the end. Most textbooks are designed to be used in a particular order as lessons build on one another and reference what was learned in previous chapters. Hopping all over the books means that logical progression is lost.


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