D86 science, math curriculum changes

Opponents’ criticism, district philosophy shared as issue heats up in D86 board race

Concerns over science and math curriculum changes in Hinsdale High School District 86 have become a focal point in the Tuesday, April 6, election for school board members. Three incumbents and seven challengers are running for four open seats on the board. Generally speaking, incumbents support the changes and challengers oppose them.

This Q & A presents both detractors’ objections and the district’s positions, as articulated by Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for curriculum.

What was the impetus for changing the science sequence to physics-chemistry-biology (PCB) at Central and moving to integrated math at both high schools?

Opponents say: There was no reason to do so. The district should not try to fix something that is not broken. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the right time to pursue changes to the math curriculum.

D86 says: The district did not have a formal curriculum review process in place prior to board approval of the strategic plan in May 2018, Covino said.

“The students are such high achievers ... that there really hasn’t been an impetus for it,” he said.

The strategic plan creates the structure for a continuous curriculum improvement process and lists curriculum alignment as its first goal. South already is teaching the PCB sequence.

“In the case of science, the idea of curriculum alignment in a very literal way was to make sure every student in District 86 had an experience that was coherent, logical and that built upon itself from freshman year through senior year,” Covino said.

How will the elimination of G-level courses affect students?

Opponents say: The district should not eliminate G-level classes at Central. The one-size-fits-all approach of the PCB sequence and integrated math will create a watered-down curriculum.

D86 says: Central currently offers five G-level courses — biology, earth science, algebra, geometry and algebra 2 — in which about 215 students are enrolled. South already has eliminated G-level courses in math and science. Students in G-level courses are not learning at grade level and never reach that point prior to graduation, Covino said.

The new curriculum sequences create bridges so students can reach grade-level proficiency by junior or senior year. A variety of supports will be in place to help students, including co-taught classes and interventionists.

“We are living the mantra, ‘You’ve got to challenge them and you’ve got to support them,’ ” Covino said. “You can’t challenge them with a below grade-level class.”

Freshmen will follow different course sequences based on the level of math they complete in eighth grade. When the new curriculum is fully implemented, eighth-graders at grade level will enter math 1. Those who have completed algebra likely will enter math 2 honors. Those who have completed geometry likely will enter math 3 honors.

What data supports the move to PCB?

Opponents say: There is no data to support the move. Only one non-selective enrollment top 50 high school offers physics first as the only curriculum.

D86 says: Sixteen other schools in Illinois offer a sequence similar to the district’s PCB sequence, Covino said. The list includes public and private schools, including Antioch, Deerfield, Glenbrook North and South, Highland Park, Loyola Academy and Walter Payton College Prep. Four schools on the list, including New Trier, offer PCB with another sequence.

Hinsdale South has been teaching a PCB sequence since 2008. The courses that have been taught there are not identical to the ones that will be offered, Covino acknowledged.

“But no one is making up new science,” he said, adding that Next Generation Science Standards are infused into a logical four-year sequence of science that will benefit students entering S.T.E.M. fields.

What data supports the move to integrated math?

Opponents say: There is no data to show integrated math will result in higher test scores. No public high school in the top 25 in the state is using integrated math.

D86 says: A look at 18 districts or private schools shows SAT math scores from 2017-2019 are trending upward in only two districts/schools, Glenbrook High School District 225 and Jones College Prep. Glenbrook offers a traditional math sequence; Jones an integrated math pathway.

Eight districts/schools — including District 86 — show scores moving up and down year to year. Five teach integrated math, three teach traditional math.

Eight districts have scores trending downward. Three offer an integrated pathway, four offer a traditional one and one is moving from traditional to integrated.

Most countries other than the U.S. use integrated approaches to math instruction, Covino noted. The U.S. ranks 36th in the world in math, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Program for International Student Assessment.

What are the pros and cons of the PCB sequence?

Opponents say: The requirement for freshmen to have completed or be enrolled in algebra to take physics is a barrier. The sequence lacks flexibility and could put students at a disadvantage in college when they are in classes with students who had a traditional science sequence. It could create issues for students transferring in or out of the district from or to high schools with a traditional sequence.

D86 says: The PCB sequences offers courses that build upon one another. Next Generation Science Standards are infused in the sequence, which is written to integrate concepts so they are not redundant and build upon each other. Freshmen will be placed in physics or physics honors based on their science and math proficiency, not on a reading score, as has been the case with biology.

What are the pros and cons of integrated math?

Opponents say: D86 has two highly ranked high schools due in part to its excellent S.T.E.M. education. Changing that curriculum could lead to a fall in rankings, making the community less desirable and resulting in falling property values. D181 and one other feeder district did not support the change.

D86 says: Like the PCB sequence, integrated math offers courses that build upon one another. Much of the content of the math 1, 2 and 3 courses will remain the same as algebra, geometry and algebra 2/trigonometry, Covino said.

Math 1, for example, will include about 55 percent algebra 1, 30 percent geometry and 15 percent statistics. Math 2 will be about 40 percent geometry, 40 percent algebra 1, 10 percent algebra 2 and 10 percent statistics. Math 3 will be about 70 percent algebra 2, 20 percent geometry and 10 percent statistics.

The new math program also will include expanded options — such as Math in the Social Sciences and Math Modeling — for seniors who are not pursuing a career in S.T.E.M. and are not interested in taking calculus or AP stats.

“Those are courses I would have taken as an English major,” Covino said.

Did the curriculum approval process provide opportunities for public input?

Opponents say: Constituents did not have the opportunity to weigh in on these changes. The board needs to be more transparent when making curriculum decisions.

D86 says: The D86 board heard a recommendation for the PCB sequence in October 2019 from the 13-member science program committee. The changes to the sequence were part of the Nov. 25 approval of the program of studies. A selection of parents and students were invited to a May 29 meeting to offer feedback.

The D86 Board approved a phased-in implementation of an integrated math pathway on Oct. 29, based on the recommendation of an 11-member math pathways team.

The proposal for integrated math was first brought to the board in May 2020 and presented before the Parent Teacher Advisory Committee in July. Two community forums were held on WebEx in September, with about 40 people participating each time, Covino said. The final proposal was made to the board at its Oct. 15 meeting, two weeks before the vote.

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean