‘We must absolutely stay the course.’ Wake keeps controversial math program.

Wake County school leaders stood by the district’s use of a controversial new high school math curriculum on Tuesday, even as some parents and students continued their lobbying efforts to get the program dropped.

Wake County school administrators said that while the the new MVP Math Curriculum has been rigorous and demanding, it’s what students need to learn for the 21st century. Staff was backed by school board members who said Tuesday they’re putting their trust in the recommendations of a district review committee in continuing to use MVP.

“While no curriculum is free of errors and cannot be all things to all students or to all teachers, the review committee’s thorough evaluation supports that the selected curriculum is sound,” said school board chairman Jim Martin.

But critics, who held another protest outside the district’s headquarters on Tuesday, told board members that they’ve lost trust in Wake over how MVP has been handled. They’ve held student walkouts, protested outside the district’s headquarters, spoken at school board meetings and flooded social media over the past few months.

“Can Wake County be honest with parents?” said Karen Carter, a Cary parent. “Damage has been done to students, education lost. Trust is completely broken. Is pushing MVP worth all of this for you?”

Since the 2017-18 school year, Wake has used materials from Utah-based Mathematics Vision Project to teach high-school level math based on Common Core standards. Instead of hearing a lecture and memorizing formulas, the focus has shifted to students working in groups to solve problems while teachers act as facilitators.

According to the report, Wake has spent $1.25 million on MVP Math, with 46 percent of the money going toward training teachers in the new curriculum.

Critics charge that the format doesn’t teach the materials, resulting in students coming out of the class struggling to understand what they would have mastered from a more traditional math course. They say it’s forced families to pay for private tutors to help their children learn the material.

School officials and parents have presented data showing sharply different results for how Wake students have fared since the district began using MVP.

According to the report, Wake has seen an increase in passing rates on the state’s Math 1 end-of-course exam. But the parents point to data showing where Wake’s scores have dropped on the exam.

Wake school officials say the difference is the report only includes high school students while the parents are including the scores of middle school students who took Math 1.

Edward McFarland, Wake’s chief academic advancement officer, also pointed to how unofficial Math 2 final exam data shows that the same percentage of students are getting A and B grades as before. He said the data shows MVP has not been failing students.

“Overall in Math 1 and Math 2 we have not seen a decline in achievement data since the introduction of the new curriculum,” McFarland said.

The report does show that average grades in Math 1 and Math 2 in high schools have dropped since Wake began using MVP. Critics say the drop is actually much larger, charging that teachers have used a bell curve to bring failing grades up to passing.

Some Wake high school math teachers have spoken in defense of the MVP curriculum, saying there aren’t alternatives for the district to use.

The review committee, which was made up of district teachers and administrators, found that no policies have been violated in using MVP. But the committee recommended changes for the 2019-20 school year, including:

Bringing in a third party to independently evaluate the implementation of MVP in the district.

Creating a “robust” website on each school webpage to support students with homework.

Delaying districtwide implementation of MVP in Math 3 so that it will be optional for schools this upcoming school year.

Providing additional training for teachers to help them support students and implement MVP lessons.*

But Blain Dillard, a Cary parent who formed a Facebook group to mobilize MVP opponents, accused the district of handpicking employees for the review committee who would justify keeping MVP.

“This is certainly the result that we parents expected,” Dillard said. “A kangaroo court established by a machine armed with attorneys and ideologues with one goal: MVP wins.”

Pete Bley, a Holly Springs parent, said families won’t take the lack of listening in parents any longer.

“Start fighting for our parents and students just as hard as you are fighting for MVP Math right now,” he said.

But during his presentation to the board, McFarland made an impassioned plea for continuing to use MVP. He said the old ways of teaching math won’t work for what students need to know now.

“We are committed to the implementation of the curriculum and the instructional pathway that is sets for our students and teachers,” McFarland said. “If we want our kids to compete for future jobs. If we want to benchmark ourselves internationally, then we must absolutely stay the course providing our students with math and STEM education that eyes the 22nd century.

“We owe it to them to be bold, to be courageous, to be relevant in the skills and competencies that we’re helping them to acquire.”

School board members said that while they appreciated the concerns from parents they were trusting staff’s recommendation. The board’s words of support led to a heated exchange with audience members.

“You are coming from a place of passion, of concern and there are very high emotions and there should be because these are your children,” school board member Heather Scott said to audience members. “When our children are hurting, we hurt along with them and I understand that very much.

“I very much also trust that this is a process that is moving our curriculum in the place that it needs to be.”

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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.