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Group forms to oppose changes in Fairfield schools’ math curriculum

To the Editor:

This year, the Fairfield School District has decided to purchase and utilize textbooks and a curriculum from an outside source, College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM). They are utilizing the state’s shift to the Common Core Curriculum Standards as an impetus for this change.

Curriculum leaders from other Connecticut districts, such as Westport, Darien, Wilton, Weston and Farmington have elected to use their current textbooks and build a mathematics curriculum to align with the Common Core Curriculum Standards for Mathematics.

The Fairfield district has already implemented the new curriculum, College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM), in the eighth and ninth grade Algebra I classes, as well as Algebra II classes in the high school.

The CPM textbook and curriculum uses an instructional method that is based on the premise that students need to build (construct) knowledge for themselves in cooperative learning groups, rather than be taught formulas and problem solving in the traditional way that we, as parents, were instructed. On a daily basis, students work in small groups for two-thirds of their classroom time with supplemental guidance from their teachers.

After reading the CPM literature, it is my understanding that CPM works as follows:

1. Much of the learning is expected to take place among students in small group settings; every study defines small groups as three to four students. Most of the CPM tutorials show a manageable class size of 16 (4 groups of 4), which is not reality for our district; “class size cannot exceed 35”.

2. CPM does not differentiate grouping, pacing or level of material; one size fits all.

3. CPM operates under the premise that rules for math concepts are not taught before students attempt to forge an understanding, since instruction can interfere with the deeper learning process. This focus is on “pure discovery” learning.

4. CPM uses “interrupted” or “spaced” learning for retention and transfer of knowledge. In other words, concepts are started but not completed prior to moving forward. Instead, concepts are introduced and put on hold. Per the CPM literature, there are articles demonstrating the effectiveness of this “interrupted practice”, however there are few studies that have been done in the educational field and CPM sites only article dealing directly with mathematics. Hardly resounding evidence to support “interrupted” learning.

The Fairfield School District held three math night presentations in October for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade parents, respectively. At the three presentations not once was there substantive discussion about CPM currently being implemented or the proposed date for board approval. Instead the presentations focused on Common Core Curriculum Standards, inquiry based learning in group settings, Smarter Balance Assessment (a state-led assessment aligned to Common Core Standards), and actively avoided questions about CPM.

On Oct. 24, there were a significant number of parents who attended the eighth grade presentation with concerns about how this new curriculum and textbook, based on a “constructivist” instructional method, was directly impacting their child’s education in Algebra I. The parents assumed their children were part of a pilot program, as the curriculum and textbook had not been voted on by the school board. Yet, the administration was dismissive about parents’ concerns and questions.

1. Based on research from an independent consulting group, how do students using CPM score on standardized tests (SAT, ACT, Entrance Exams to private schools)? The administration could not provide any independent research.

2. How is our district quantifiably assessing this new program with control and comparison groups? The administrators presented pie chart showing two dissimilar testing methods to compare two months worth of data.

3. How many Connecticut districts are currently using CPM and what are the test score results on standardized tests for these districts? Do these middle school districts have more than two levels of mathematical instruction per grade level?

4. Why are students struggling with this new textbook and instruction, which has resulted in so many students being tutored outside of school?

5. Why is our district using a textbook that has not been approved by the Board of Education? The General Statues of Connecticut (Sec. 10-229) state “no board of education shall change any textbooks used in the public school except by a two-thirds vote of all members of the board, notice of such intended change having been previously given at a meeting of such board held at least one week previous to the vote upon such change.”

6. Why are certain members of the BOE and administration in such a rush to make this drastic change without parent, teacher and student input?

7. Why doesn’t our district utilize a survey, developed and administered by an independent party, to parents, students and teachers to obtain input regarding the new curriculum and experiences during the first several months of its current implementation?

8. How is the district monitoring the effects of this “constructivist” instruction on students with attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, 504 accommodation plans, IEP’s (approximately 20% of the student body)? Many students have stated that this new method has fostered distractions leading them off task.

Administrators requested that parents write all of their questions on index cards. They stated that all questions would be answered in a timely fashion and posted on the Fairfield Public School website. Parents are still eagerly awaiting responses to their concerns, as we approach the third month of school.

You might be asking, “What is Common Core Curriculum Standards, otherwise known as CCCS?” Common Core Curriculum Standards help teachers ensure their students have the “skills and knowledge they need to be successful by providing clear goals for student learning. “Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environment for their classrooms” (corestandards.org).

Common Core Curriculum Standards for Mathematics put an emphasis on critical thinking, rather than memorization, and on collaborative learning. The Common Core Standards for Mathematics do not mandate a set amount of time for cooperative learning groups in a classroom, nor does it mandate that the curriculum cannot be differentiated to meet the specific learning needs and learning styles of each student. The Fairfield Public School District has chosen to implement the CPM curriculum and textbook, which uses a “constructivist” instruction, to align with the Common Core Curriculum Standards for Mathematics.

Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS) is not synonymous with CPM. CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) is structured to align with the CCCS. At the three math night presentations, our district only presented and emphasized the CCCS, limited oral questions and abruptly ended the eighth grade meeting to avoid discussion on CPM and “constructivist” instruction.

Fairfield Math Advocates is a newly formed group of concerned parents within Fairfield advocating for students. If you are interested in becoming involved, contact FfldMathAdvocates@sbcglobal.net. Information can be found at ffldmathadvocates.wordpress.com.

Fairfield Math Advocates

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