School board stokes high school math fires

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Sam Hunter and Mike Nelson present the ad hoc committee’s report on integrated math at the Coeur d’Alene School District board meeting Monday. (JUDD WILSON/Press)

COEUR d’ALENE — Anybody who thinks math is boring should have witnessed the lively debate over math curriculum at the Coeur d’Alene School District’s board meeting Monday night.

School district director of curriculum and assessment Dr. Mike Nelson and ad hoc committee chairman Sam Hunter presented their case for how integrated math could improve performance among high schoolers in the district. Integrated math curriculum would slice and dice the traditional Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 classes into three new math classes titled Math 1, Math 2, and Math 3.

Nelson explained that by the time district students get to high school, they will have used Common Core math for five years. Shifting to integrated math would continue that progression but allow the district flexibility in how they designed and implemented it, he said.

The proposed integrated math curriculum would encompass three years of algebra and functions with geometry, statistics and probability in each course. Nelson told the board that if approved, ALP Math would be available in eighth grade, and the board would need to also approve courses in Boost and ALP variants of Math 1, 2, and 3.

Teacher Adam Hanan said the traditional math curriculum gives equal weight to math concepts that go untested by the SAT and ISAT tests. The committee’s proposed curriculum would give more weight to those concepts that students are tested on, without eliminating the untested concepts.

“The test was part of our guide, but every item in the core curriculum is still being taught, just being moved to areas where it’s complementary with heavier topics,” Hanan said.

Board trustee Lisa May said though test scores are important, “I want to ensure our students are learning this material first and foremost. I don’t want a curriculum solely to be driven by scores.”

Hanan explained that the geometry would be the same as what district staff are teaching now.

“We’re not removing geometry, we’re just moving it to a different location,” he said.

Instructional coach Ryan Gillespie said there is a high level of support for the integrated math among staff members.

Parent and district employee Nicole Olson argued on behalf of the integrated math curriculum because after researching curricula and using the Singapore Math integrated curriculum for five years as a homeschooling mom, she believed it was superior to the traditional approach. Speaking of Singapore Math, she said, “I wish I could have learned math like this when I was younger.” When she had to re-enroll her kids in public schools, she said some took a step backward in their math education.

However, not everyone involved in the curriculum vetting process agreed. Two members of the ad hoc committee submitted an official dissent to the proposal. Community members Katrina Zepeda and Kristen Baldridge, both of whom have masters’ degrees in teaching or education, argued that the rush to implement an integrated math approach came about because of an unproven assumption that the public and district staff wanted to go that route. The educators also explained that district staff on the curriculum committee had refused to commit to an integrated math approach past 2021, which is when the district would be set to buy new math curriculum.

“You could very well fully implement an ‘integrated’ math program that the teachers and administrators decide to abandon right after it has been fully launched,” wrote Zepeda and Baldridge.

Results from a pilot program among freshmen at Coeur d’Alene High School have not been disclosed, they wrote. Most significantly, they argued that it was unwise given that “the same people who have been overseeing instruction, and who have led us to 29 percent proficiency in high school math, are the ones who wrote the program and have charged themselves with overseeing it.”

Bill Elliott said Monday that he was very concerned about the prospect of his students using “a self-developed, untested math program.”

“Its design lacks an underlying text curriculum and has yet to be vetted by an impartial, outside evaluator,” he said.

Elliott urged the board to give incoming Superintendent Dr. Steve Cook a chance to set the direction for this part of the curriculum.

“I’m confident that with his guidance, the right direction would be made,” Elliott said.

“We have a pretty sophisticated group of people that have spent a lot of time on this,” countered Hunter. Nelson added, “This conversation has been lively. There has been no perfect answer.”

If approved, this spring Math 1 teachers would refine a detailed course pacing guide using Big Ideas Math, and would create unit outlines with common checkpoint assessments, common lessons, and end-of-course assessments, said Nelson.

Board trustee Tom Hearn said he had heard concerns from constituents about the timing of the curriculum decision, and gave credence to the minority report’s arguments. Nelson said that after four years of work on the issue, and after a year of committee deliberations amidst the superintendent search, putting off the decision again doesn’t make sense.

“The superintendent issue never came up until now,” he said.

The presentation was for informational purposes only, and the public is welcome to comment on the proposal for the next 30 days, said board Chairman Casey Morrisroe. A spokesman for the district said following the public comment period, the integrated math curriculum will come to the board for action at its next monthly meeting on April 2.

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