NC lawmakers meddling in math – again

Students Kopal Gupta, left, Laurel Thomas, left center, and Karlyn Voltz, right, work on a problem with teacher Scott Maxwell, right center, in his Math III Honors STEM class at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh.
Students Kopal Gupta, left, Laurel Thomas, left center, and Karlyn Voltz, right, work on a problem with teacher Scott Maxwell, right center, in his Math III Honors STEM class at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

On Wednesday, I will be administering a four-hour state-mandated final exam mostly for ninth-graders before heading downtown to help supervise my school’s graduation program.

On Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Education will be discussing House Bill 657: Math Standard Course of Study Revisions, an attempt to legislate curriculum and take students and teachers back to the old way of learning math, even after the General Assembly-appointed commission to review the standards recommended more research before implementing another set of courses. Additionally, the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education completed a standards revision process, including significant input from teachers, parents, district math specialists and higher education faculty to further refine and support integrated math courses.

As I look forward to graduation Wednesday, proud of all of these students’ accomplishments, I can’t help but think of everything they have been through during their four years of high school.

This cohort of graduates is linked to statewide peers in that they have been a part of a shift from the old way of teaching and learning math, to the new integrated approach. In 2013, N.C. transitioned students from Algebra I, II and Geometry to Math 1, 2, 3, an integrated course sequence designed to demonstrate the connection between major concepts of math, while also providing students with the opportunity to learn applicable skills for college and career readiness.

The most notable accomplishment of this new structure is the development of statistics and probability throughout the courses, a strand most useful in our data-driven society. In the traditional sequence, only a few students were exposed to statistics in an elective course.

When N.C. schools implemented the new math sequence, we were not provided the necessary resources and training to do it effectively – the last time we had the money to buy new math textbooks for high school was 2004. However, our state’s teachers have worked tirelessly on crafting and revising a curriculum that makes sense for all of our students.

Schools are very different from when most of us were in them. The job market for our graduates has changed significantly. The skills needed to be successful and competitive for colleges have changed to require the application of several mathematical concepts at one time to solve real-world problems. This is why colleges and universities and the business community have supported the standards organized in an integrated approach.

As lawmakers debate this retreat in math instruction, hoping for public input – on a Wednesday, during school hours, while many N.C. math teachers are administering a state test – I want to outline a few points to consider:

▪ We have an entire cohort of students learning in the integrated sequence, and adjustments have been made to higher level math courses to accommodate prerequisite material. Changing now would be detrimental to their learning and advancement in upper level courses.

▪ The majority of parents have just gotten used to the new curriculum and would be deeply troubled by yet another change in their child’s progress toward graduation.

▪ The bill also eliminates using Career and Technical Education courses as a fourth math credit for graduation. This option allows students who plan to enter a technical career the opportunity to begin specializing their education while still in high school.

▪ Teachers and administrators have worked for four years adjusting to the new curriculum. Reverting back would incite (another) chaotic four years in gathering quality resources and changing lesson plans for effective instruction. Many think we would be able to pick up the Algebra II book and start back like nothing ever happened, but we have seen the benefits of teaching using an integrated approach and would continue to make connections across algebra and geometry topics – because that is what is best for our students.

▪ Taxpayer money has been spent developing resources and implementing the integrated sequence. To waste those that money would be fiscally irresponsible. There would also be a need for more money to support another implementation process.

The last thing this next cohort of students needs is another “big change” to fix education. What all students, teachers and parents need is consistency and the time, resources and training for teachers to better help our students learn the mathematics they need to be successful in our complex, ever-changing world. We need our legislators to support us in this process – especially during an election year.

Trey Ferguson is a high school math teacher in Wake County, a Hope Street Group N.C. Teacher Voice Network Fellow and a N.C. Core Advocate with Student Achievement Partners.