Sullivan BOE to consider elementary math texts

Rick Wagner • Apr 29, 2016 at 6:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board will decide in mid-May whether to continue with the second of six planned years of TNCore math textbooks by Curriculum Associates in grades K-5 or have teachers use other resources, including online resources or the last-generation math books from Pearson Education that no longer are on the Tennessee list of approved math textbooks.

And in December, the board wants a report from a review committee of teachers and possibly others on how to proceed in the following four years.

The board during a work session Thursday afternoon discussed the finer points of new elementary math books, throwing in the uncertainty of the TNReady testing since Tennessee Wednesday terminated its agreement with Measurement Inc. MI written tests did not arrive as repeatedly promised for grades 3-8 statewide after the state pulled the plug on online testing after that system failed. High school end-of-course tests will continue; however, none of those tests, if scores are available, will count for student grades this year or toward teacher evaluations unless it would help a teacher.

In a nutshell, it all could come down to doing long division the traditional way and at least one alternative way, as shown in a worksheet from Board of Education member Michael Hughes, or a worksheet question of how many rectangles you can make from 15 squares — based on the premise that it takes two squares to make a rectangle, which BOE member and former math teacher Randall Jones said is simply  not the case since a square is a rectangle although not vice versa.

Confused? So, said school board members, are parents and students.

Board member Hughes and Todd Broughton requested that Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski put the K-5 math books on the meeting of a special meeting to be called in mid-May to consider the 2016-17 school budget, which Rafalowski said won’t be ready by the regular meeting Monday, May 2. Delaying the decision until the June meeting could mean no math texts by the start of school in August, said Robin McClellan, the system’s supervisor of curriculum and instruction.

A recent anonymous survey of 64 math teachers, 45 percent of those systemwide, found that 89 percent used Curriculum and 11 percent Pearson, McClellan said.

Because of the uncertainty over TNReady testing and the new Tennessee State Standards, which closely mirror immediate past Common Core Standards, Rafaloski said without board action she would buy only an additional year of a contract with Curriculum for $187,159.44, not the next five years for $407.160.36. McClellan said the iReady program, which is part of Curriculum, by itself would cost more than the whole Curriculum text program. The TNReady math calls for learning different ways to get the answer, as well as working together, practical application and a focus on concepts. However, Rafalowski predicted the state would stick with current standards a while before considering changes.

“I’m still a believer in the drills and practice,” Hughes said. However, school system math coach Julie Matney said drills won’t work alone for new standards but that things like knowing multiplication tables are important.

“The way you run the class is important. It no longer is the teacher sitting there and running the show,” Matney said, emphasizing that students must see connections with the real world in math problems. “Our kids aren’t made like we were.”

Howeve, retired teacher and BOE member Jane Thomas said some students have been so upset by the math they cried or were physically ill.

Matney, a veteran math teacher, said that when the K-12 math textbooks were recommended by a textbook committee, the only serious concerns were from a high school math teacher who feared the grades 6-12 Carnegie Learning books chosen were not rigorous enough. Hughes and Jones said elementary parents don’t understand the new elementary approaches to math.

“I get calls from engineers, doctors,” Hughes said. Matney said, “They don’t give it a chance. This is new.” Rafalowski said at Ketron Elementary math teachers stayed after school for parents to come in for sessions on the new math.

The board last year did a “global” adoption of all state-approved math texts, but the other one not chosen is very similar to Carnegie, Matney and McClellan said. School board members said their angst is not with Matney or McClellan but the state’s new math standards.