Mt. Lebanon teachers defend math program

Published Jan 22, 2013 at 10:18 am (Updated Jan 22, 2013 at 10:18 am)

Mt. Lebanon educators defended the district’s math curriculum during a presentation at the Jan. 21 school board meeting.

Parents have questioned the new curriculum’s effectiveness, charging that it places too little emphasis on arithmetic procedures in favor of abstract thinking and non-traditional assignments.

A panel including mathematics curriculum facilitators Kristin Malock, Kim Robbins, Jim Willison and Lincoln Elementary principal Dr. Marybeth Irvin fielded questions. In particular, the focus is on the elementary and intermediate levels, which now use a program called Investigations in Numbers, Data and Space.

“The dialogue coming from students on a daily basis, the depth to which they take it is truly amazing,” said curriculum facilitator Robbins. “We can now have conversations about math. Students are debating and challenging each other. They are learning. Our test scores say they’re learning.”

The panel emphasized that though Investigations now forms the basis for the math curriculum, Pennsylvania Common Core Standards and standardized testing ensure students’ math education remains balanced.

“Because we follow state standards and have common assessments we all get to the same place,” explained Irvin.

Board members focused many of their questions on how teachers were refining the curriculum in the classroom. Ed Kubit noted that some parents have presented research showing school districts have had to supplement Investigations with additional curriculum. “How do we identify potential gaps?” he asked.

Curriculum facilitator Willison replied, “it is important for us to remember we do not ‘purchase’ our curriculum. We don’t just open up to a page in a book and teach that.”

The panel pointed to teacher-made assessments, MAP testing, PSSA scores and achievement and growth data as tools for evaluating students’ progress.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Deborah Allen added that parent feedback also helps in evaluating curriculum. “Every time we have feedback from parents, be it positive or negative, it causes us to take a look at our practices. We are constantly questioning them and making refinements.”

Board vice president Larry Lebowitz echoed those statements, saying, “this discussion, precipitated by many parents, is about listening to concerns. It is about conveying those concerns to our professionals and even challenging our professionals to make sure we are doing the right thing for our kids.”

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