Garner Cleveland Record

Wake parents complain about math placement

Educators in Wake County and across the state touted the new “Common Core” math curriculum introduced this school year as being more rigorous – challenging even the brightest students.

But several Wake County parents of academically gifted students say the new math curriculum has fallen short of testing their children.

Now these families are upset about having to rush through a last-minute process to make their children eligible to take a seventh-grade math course that will be offered to some gifted sixth-grade students this fall.

“We are telling these previously AG (academically gifted) identified students that Common Core math is too hard for you, so let’s dumb it down a little bit for you,” Chetan Vora, a Cary parent, said a recent school board meeting. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Parents and school administrators are scheduled to meet May 2 to discuss the concerns in the state’s largest school system.

School administrators say they’re juggling the new curriculum, placing students for this fall and preparing for changes the state will make for gifted students in the 2014-15 school year.

“We want to ensure that students are being placed appropriately,” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance.

‘Single-subject acceleration’

But Wake school board member Jim Martin, who has been in contact with the parents, said the problems with the new math curriculum show the school board needs to become more involved.

“There is inconsistency in this issue,” he said. “It’s important that everyone has access to the information. I believe there needs to be more discussion at the board level.”

The issue in question is “single-subject acceleration,” in which students are placed in a class a year level higher than the one they would normally be in for their grade

School officials called for a slowdown in the use of single-subject acceleration as North Carolina became one of 45 states this school year to adopt the Common Core standards in language arts and mathematics.

Common Core is aimed at providing uniformity in what’s being taught in classrooms nationally.

At the time of introduction, supporters of the new curriculum said it would be more rigorous than what was taught before, citing examples such as introducing students to concepts that were historically taught in upper grades.

Parent: ‘Something is wrong’

Common Core was said to be so much harder that Wake discontinued an advanced course that allowed fifth-grade students to take both fifth- and sixth-grade math.

Upendra Padmonkar is one of several parents of academically gifted fifth-grade students who say their children haven’t felt challenged in math this school year. He said he’s had to get private tutoring because his daughter, a student at Washington Elementary School in Raleigh, finishes her math homework in less than 10 minutes a night.

“Something is wrong if she can finish her work so soon,” he said.

Vora, the parent, said things are different this year for his son, a fifth-grade student at Fuller Elementary School in Raleigh. “I’ve seen my kid tell me that math is boring,” he said. “That’s troubling.”

Moore said that she’ll have to talk with her staff and teachers because they’re not telling her that students are finding the work so easy.

The parental concerns escalated earlier this year when they got notices that their children were being recommended for an advanced sixth-grade math class this fall and not accelerated into a seventh-grade math class.

After spring break, elementary schools began sending notices to parents of rising sixth-grade students letting them know what they’d have to do to be considered to take the seventh-grade math class. The lengthy list includes students retaking a pair of exams they took two years ago that could require them to show up on multiple Saturdays for six hours at a time.

A communication issue

Aditi Majumdar, an Apex parent who is leading the group, said another problem is that not all elementary schools are sending home the notices. And some that are sending notices are doing so with some, but not all, the parents of academically gifted children, she said.

Moore said individual elementary schools decided how to notify families. She said only a small number of rising sixth-graders are expected to take the seventh-grade math course this fall.

Another source of frustration for parents is that, according to Wake’s own documents, the process for nominating the students for acceleration should have begun in the fall.

“We’re just spinning our wheels trying to find answers,” said Majumdar, who has a fifth-grade student at Washington Elementary.

Moore said the whole process is in transition. She said they’re waiting to hear how the State Board of Education will put in place a new policy for the 2014-15 school year dealing with placement of academically gifted students in advanced courses.

In the meantime, Moore said they’re still committed to working with parents to meet the needs of their children.

“Our focus is on ensuring we have through the Common Core the opportunity for students to be provided acceleration,” she said.