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GUSD can’t find consensus with math curriculum

GUSD can’t find consensus with math curriculum
Teachers, staff members and the Glendale Unified school board are continuing discussions about two math teaching styles. (File Photo)

If learning mathematics wasn't difficult enough, the Glendale Unified School District is proving the process of selecting a curriculum can be just as challenging.

For a second straight board meeting, teachers, staff members and the Glendale Unified school board debated the value of two teaching styles during a board meeting last week.

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A second round of debates is heading toward what may be a contentious vote at the next board meeting on Tuesday.

At the heart of the discussion is a choice between the College Preparatory Mathematics, or CPM, system and a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, or HMH, course.

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The district defined CPM as "a nontraditional approach to math instruction that values student engagement in collaborative learning settings. The teacher facilitates learning activities that require students to discuss, write about and make sense of mathematical concepts using" eight mathematical standards.

CPM also employs a fair amount of group work and real-world math scenarios.

The district describes HMS as "a more traditional math program that involves direct instruction from the teacher and provides examples and practice problems in a workbook format."

HMS also allows for more teacher flexibility and has more of an emphasis on textbook learning.

Beginning this school year, the district moved away from a traditional math high school pathway to an integrated method, which blends concepts for algebra I, geometry and algebra II in a three-year package rather than as separate classes taken each year.

During the transition year, some high school and middle school teachers took part in pilot programs for first level math throughout the district, with 11 high school instructors employing lessons from both sets of curriculum in second and third level math.

Pilot teachers were given four days of instruction for CPM courses and two days for HMH.

The CPM pilot took place from Aug. 16 to Nov. 17, while the MHM program went from Nov. 27 to March 16.

The district's Math Curriculum Study Committee then conducted a survey with an emphasis placed more on the high-school teaching experience.

Thirty-seven teacher votes from the district's nine middle and high schools produced a razor thin majority of 19-18 for Houghton Mifflin.

While teachers barely voted in favor of HMH, principals went in the opposite direction as six voted for CPM versus two in favor of HMH with one abstention.

Some statistical information presented by Chris Coulter, the district's director of teaching and learning, also seemed to back CPM.

Middle school students tested before and after the CPM pilot program saw a 138% change in their mathematical understanding versus 87% for HMH. Test results for CPM also trumped those of HMH at the high-school level, 63% to 48%.

On a five-point scale, teachers thought the CPM system was also better than HMH at aligning to content standards (3.9 to 3.6), aligning to the Common Core's Standards for Mathematical Practice (3.7 to 3.3) along with planning, support and materials (3.4 to 3.2).

All three teachers who spoke during the meeting on Tuesday were in favor of the College Preparatory Mathematics curriculum and textbooks.

"I want you to know that even though the districtwide vote was split, the teachers at Glendale High School are united, not unanimously, no, but almost and we're eager to implement the CPM math program at our site," Glendale High math teacher Sarah Morrison said.

Morrison added, "The CPM curriculum got more, many more of our students actively engaged in class time than we've ever seen before. It got kids, all kinds of kids — our top students and our weakest students, quiet students, English language learners and students with special needs — all of them were talking about mathematics during class time."

While Coulter noted that student feedback from the survey was inconclusive with "no clear pattern in preferences," such was not the case with parents.

Of 139 parents who responded to an electronic survey from April 19 through 24, 73% thought that HMH was more effective in helping students learn mathematical concepts.

Due to the teachers' vote, district staff recommended a single adoption of HMH for Integrated Mathematics I to III, which will include supplemental resources.

"What we proposed and what we brought forward was a hybrid model and that is we're using the HMH along with the CPM strategies," Supt. Winfred Roberson Jr. said. "Both offer pedagogical practices that are beneficial for students."

Greg Krikorian, board president, said that while he supports what the teachers believe is best, he still wasn't sure the district had sorted out what was actually most effective for students.

"I asked this question last time, 'how many of students going to [Glendale Community College] or [Pasadena City College] have remediation in algebra and calculus in college?" Krikorian said. "I'm hearing the numbers are pretty large in GCC and PCC and are they coming through specific schools sites that may be doing these practices? What is the best thing for our kids? What is going to give them student achievement?"

One compromise proposed for the split was the adoption of a dual curriculum, which would allow individual school officials to select which method they would use rather than the district choosing one uniform path for all schools.

There was, however, strong opposition to such a course by a few educational staff members, including Kelly King, assistant superintendent.

"One of the challenges is that we're looking at why our students are struggling at mathematics, because we do have a higher achievement in English and language arts than we do in mathematics, so we know that math is definitely an area of concern across the district," King said.

"When you have some teachers at one school using one book and other teachers using a different program and teachers at a third school using another program, it's hard for us to determine if it's the book [or] the instruction," she added.

Jennifer Freemon, board vice president who has a daughter and husband going through the pilot program as a student and teacher, respectively, said she was impressed with both programs, but leaned toward HMH.

"I am comfortable with both books, but, as a parent, I felt more comfortable and I liked HMH just again because it was easier to help when help was needed than with the CPM," Freemon said. "It was easier to access those pieces."

Board member Armina Gharpetian wondered why the district staff's recommendation was made because of one vote.

"If there was [one] more teacher voting for CPM, would CPM be the choice?" Gharpetian asked. "Are we talking about one teacher's vote? Is that what it's come down to? Let's be honest, this is the conversation we're having?"

Ultimately, Krikorian said that although there was no consensus as of Tuesday evening, a decision would have to be made soon.

"Right now, it looks like it's on the fence with us here — a 3-2 split or a 2-3 split," he said.

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Twitter: @campadresports

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