Weekly Feature

2010-06-23 / Front Page

Data shows math textbook doesn’t hurt scores

Amherst Schools
by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

There has been much discussion as to whether the “Math Investigations” textbook is hurting or helping elementary students when learning math in the Amherst Central School District. Data presented at the June 15 School Board meeting shows the textbook is not hurting scores.

Tom Ferraina, the district’s director of curriculum and staff development, presented several graphs depicting student mastery — scoring 3 or 4 on state assessment math tests — for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Smallwood Drive and Windermere Boulevard from the 2005-06 to 2008-09 school years.

The district adopted the use of the “Math Investigations” textbook for its elementary schools in the 2005-06 school year and piloted the second edition of the textbook this past year. “Math Investigations” uses a more conceptual way of examining algorithms compared to traditional methods.

Compared with other districts, Amherst saw increases in scores from the third to fifth grades, peaking in the mid to high 90th percentile.

Breaking it down a little further, Smallwood students have generally scored in the high 90th percentile while Windermere’s scores have steadily increased into the low 90th percentile. The math assessment scores of middle school students who used “Math Investigations” at the elementary schools have also increased.

“I think the question is, ‘Is “Math Investigations” a bad program?’ and if that is the question, then the statements do not support that,” said board member Ann Marie Carosella.

“The data that we presented has demonstrated that it appears as if ‘Math Investigations’ has not decreased our mathematical ability, but I would suggest that what has increased is our children’s ability to think mathematically and understand and apply an unfamiliar situation,” said Mary Lavin, Windermere’s early childhood principal. “The children can with confidence compute in their head in a fashion that they weren’t able to do so before.

“It’s scary to us because we want our children to be successful,” she said. “It’s unfamiliar to us when we have learned a certain way. The teachers’ confidence has increased. I think their understanding has increased from year to year. The new investigations has taken that information and presented in a much more user friendly fashion.”

Some parents do not like the textbook. At the Jan. 26 meeting, resident Brie Olearczyk, who has a fourth-grader at Smallwood, told the board that the second edition of the “Math Investigations” textbook should no longer be used in the elementary schools.

Olearczyk said she found many gaps in the textbook, such as no teaching standard or methods for algorithms; no carrying or borrowing for setting up addition, subtraction and multiplication problems up and down; and no long division.

At the Feb. 23 meeting, resident Tom Ernst said his wife is frustrated because she can’t help her daughter with math because of the way the textbook provides information.

Ferraina said sustaining professional development will be needed to ensure that teachers are better practitioners of math.

In the fall, parents will be informed about the subject during open house and through two presentations in November with Dona Apple, a senior mathematics consultant for the Regional Science Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Apple was brought in by the district to provide professional development for teachers in September, November, January and March.

The board also received an update on the district’s technology committee.

The committee comprises two teachers from each school/area – Doreen Adelman and Alexis Sleight (high school), Rob Zdrojewski and Jennifer Chomen (middle school), Jon Herzog and Freda Orosz (Smallwood), Kelli Treichler and Tracy Wojda (Windermere), and Martha Boyle and Alicia Radko (special education); five administrative members – Mark Whyle (assistant superintendent), Ferraina, Judy Burley (middle school assistant principal), Julie Flanagan (Windermere’s Intermediate Education Center principal), and Angela Ferri (administrative intern); technical – Doug Wolf (coordinator of technology) and Dave Schnell (computer support specialist), Carosella, and Jeff Torsell (community member). Each person on the committee will serve a two-year term.

The mission of the committee is to design and manage a sustainable, dynamic plan for the acquisition, implementation, utilization and maintenance of technology resources in order to maximize and assess the impact on teaching and learning.

The committee met two of its three goals for the 2009-10 school year. It submitted a technology plan to BOCES for the district’s E-rate federal funding — accomplished in April — and developed a needs assessment by designing and administering a teacher survey.

Zdrojewski said survey results provided the committee with insight into what the training and hardware needs are and that the needs for training were greater than the needs to acquire additional hardware.

Zdrojewski then said the committee decided to reallocate existing funds to provide one tech integration specialist staff position to work with educators and students in a new role as a staff developer, mentor and content creator of training videos.

“This tech integration specialist provides ‘embedded professional development’ with teachers in their own classrooms, students, and hardware,” said Zdrojewski. “This mix provides the greatest rate of success with teachers being successful implementing technology in their teaching.”

The committee’s other goal — designing the regulatory role of the Tech Committee — has yet to be reached.

“We will establish ways that the committee can act as a ‘clearinghouse’ to enable our teaching staff to use/teach new 21st century skills like social networking, and establishing a positive digital footprint,” said Zdrojewski. “This may be done by using collaborative methods like Google groups, so online discussions can exist in between face-to-face meetings of our committee, thus accomplishing more by using technology ourselves.”

In another matter: the board accepted a $500 donation from former Amherst Superintendent Dennis Ford for Dennis Ford Field, site of the varsity baseball and softball diamonds located between Westmoreland Road and Kings Highway.

The board appointed Michael Cornell to a three-year probationary appointment as middle school principal effective July 1 through June 30, 2013. Cornell is replacing Diane Klein, who is retiring.

e-mail: pnagy@beenews.com

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