Wake changed how it teaches high school math. Some parents say it’s hurting students.

Wake County has changed the way it teaches math to focus more on problem-solving skills instead of memorizing formulas, but some parents think the new approach is leaving students frustrated and falling behind.

Over the past two school years, Wake has standardized the math curriculum used in middle schools and high schools with new material designed to work with Common Core math standards. School officials say students need to understand and explain their answers and not simply replicate a formula they’ve learned.

“We’re moving the cheese a little bit for folks, and it’s a good move,” Michelle Tucker, Wake’s director of K-12 math, told school board members. “It’s a move that needed to happen.”

But some parents say that previously high-performing students are struggling in math now and some are resorting to using private tutors. Critics have focused their concerns on the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) curriculum now used in high school-level courses.

“Kids who’ve never had anxiety are having it now,” said Karen Carter, a parent at Green Hope High School in Cary. “It’s defeat after defeat.”

Parents from across the county showed up for a meeting Wednesday night at Green Hope about the MVP curriculum. They were turned away due to lack of space.

Amid the concerns, school board chairman Jim Martin said he’s asked a school board committee to have another look at the MVP curriculum. Lisa Luten, a school district spokeswoman, said Wake staff are looking at how to help students who are having issues.

The Mathematics Vision Project, a nonprofit education group formed in Utah to develop materials to teach Common Core math standards, did not return requests for comment.

Wake and the rest of North Carolina public schools began using the Common Core standards in reading and math in 2012. Because of a backlash, the standards were retooled by the state.

When Wake began to look in 2017 for new high school math materials, it picked MVP instead of a large textbook publisher. MVP provides open educational resources, meaning the material is in the public domain or can be freely used and edited.

Wake pays for student workbooks and for teachers to be trained in the new materials.

Wake has also gone to open education resources when picking the new materials for middle school math and language arts in elementary and middle schools.

MVP was used for the first time in the 2017-18 school year in Math 1. This school year it’s expanded to Math 2. Select middle schools and high schools are piloting the Math 3 resources.

From the start, Wake said it would require a change in how math courses are taught. Instead of hearing a lecture, the focus has shifted to students working in groups to solve problems.

“It won’t be as easy as just looking at a formula and plugging it in or getting an answer,” Tucker told school board members in a November meeting on the new math resources. “The expectation and the standard becomes much more deeper than did you just get 24.”

Tucker added that students who are used to doing computations and memorizing formulas are now expected to explain and justify their answers.

Typically, Tucker told school board members, scores drop when a new curriculum is used. But she pointed to how Wake’s passing rate on the state’s end-of-course Math 1 test went up last school year.

Administrators played video clips from math teachers talking about how students now love math and have gone from being reluctant to speak to now raising their hands to answer questions.

“I’m very excited that we’re hearing from the teachers’ comments of the students finding their voice and becoming participants in their learning as opposed to inanimate receivers of instruction,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.

But Blain Dillard, a parent at Green Hope High, said what sounds good on paper isn’t being reflected in the grades students are receiving. Students like his son who were taking Math 2 Honors last semester were getting 40s, 50s and 60s after having previously been getting As in math courses, he said.

“I understand it takes some times to work out the kinks,” Dillard said. “But the reality is we’ve got a lot of kids who are suffering.”

Dillard blamed the issue on the MVP curriculum not providing enough examples for students on how to solve the problems.

Dillard created a Facebook group that’s drawn parents from multiple schools sharing their concerns about MVP. One of the members, Charity Wyatt, has children at Broughton High School and Martin Middle School in Raleigh.

Wyatt said that parents who are professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, are unable to help their children solve the math problems. She said they’re having to go online to look up math videos from non-MVP sites and hire tutors to work with their children.

Wyatt said the stakes are especially big in high school, where a poor math grade could hurt a student’s chances to get into a competitive school such as UNC-Chapel Hill.

‘We need to look at this again,” Wyatt said in an interview. “This is not working.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.