Published Oct 30, 2014
Math pilot concerns relate back
to Learning for All plan
By Pamela Lannom
At least one set of math materials being piloted in Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 has been abandoned, and parents asked the board Monday to discontinue a second pilot.
Agile Minds will no longer be taught in math classes at Hinsdale Middle School, parents learned in an email from Superintendent Don White Oct. 23.
Staff initially were excited about using Agile Minds but changed their opinion, Assistant Superintendent of Learning Kurt Schneider said Monday.
“Listening to the teachers, we have decided to discontinue the Agile Minds pilot as individuals were feeling it is not the best match for our students because of concerns related to rigor, differentiation, technology support, adaptability of materials, etc.,” Schneider said.
Big Ideas will continue to be piloted in most math classes at Clarendon Hills Middle School.
“Staff have reported very positive initial impressions,” Schneider said of that resource.
Elementary pilot teachers and administrators met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the future of the Investigations pilot. Many of the 16 parents who spoke Monday night about the math pilots asked for it to be discontinued as well.
Schneider had indicated Monday that both elementary school pilots — Investigations and Math in Focus — would continue.
Investigations is being piloted in four grades at Madison School and one at Elm School. Math in Focus is being taught in two grades each at Monroe and Prospect schools and one grade at Oak.
Board member Jill Vorobiev suggested the district stop using Investigations as a primary resource at the elementary schools and consider using it as a supplement.
“I’m not a curriculum expert, but I’m listening to parents and I’m listening to students and I’m listening to the reactions that at least some teachers have had that maybe there is too much of a focus on this conceptual approach to learning math,” she said.
White said he wanted to ask teachers whether there is anything else they will learn if the pilot continues into December.
“If not, we probably have enough information to make a decision one way or another. It might look like the hybrid you described,” he said to Vorobiev, “or it might involve not using those resources at all.”
The district is looking for a resource that provides a strong foundation in fluency, conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge and application, White stated in his memo. Conceptual knowledge is of greater importance under the new Common Core standards.
Other factors appear to be complicating this curriculum work, and Schneider spent significant time in his presentation discussing the changes that have taken place in the district in recent years, many of which are tied together under the Learning for All plan.
The district also has had a lot of administrative turnover in the last decade. Schneider reported that since 2004, the district has had five superintendents, five assistant superintendents of curriculum (three in the last three years) and 23 different principals.
Board member Brendan Heneghan suggested the district still needs to follow Moon’s recommendation to do a better job of differentiating instruction.
“The problem is we need to have much better differentiation to do it and we’re not there yet. We don’t have the same approach all over the district,” he said. “How do we reconcile all these things and have a plan that we can describe to parents who ask or even describe to ourselves?”
Schneider said the impression that teachers are not able to create flexible groups of students to facilitate differentiation is false.
“We need to clarify this vision and what are these terms and what is the direction,” Schneider said.
He also suggested the district slow down its curriculum renewal cycle, which he described as too aggressive.
“Essentially you’ve got every plate spinning all the time,” he said.
Mridu Garg said she believes advanced learners are in jeopardy under the Learning for All plan. She compared its implementation to tearing down an old home to build a new one.
“We’re not doing Learning for All right now,” she said. “We’ve torn down the house a little bit (and are) trying to build the foundation while students are living in the house.
“We cannot continue down this path. We need to slow down this Learning for All plan.”
Teachers will spend part of their institute day Nov. 4 planning how to transition out of one or both pilot programs, administrators said.