Math Curriculum Update Draws Questions on Textbooks, Teaching Styles

The Clayton Board of Education is expected to receive a final draft of the review in June. Changes in the district's curriculum have been in the making for nearly six years.

The Clayton Board of Education received a much-anticipated final update on the district’s math curriculum review Wednesday night, and board members made sure to make one thing clear: This is the beginning of a complex process.

The board received the update from Dottie Barbeau, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning; Heidi Shepard, the district’s director of assessment and mathematics; parent Ruth Hall; and teacher Tyler Harger of the K-12 Math Committee. The presentation of the final review is expected in June.

The group has been tasked with developing a curriculum comparable to others used internationally. Its members have studied programs from places such as Singapore, Finland and Hong Kong. Where possible, they have incoporated aspects of those curricula into Clayton's plan.

Much of Wednesday's presentation revolved around adapting the Common Core State Standards, which the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently approved and adopted. The program aims to emphasize students' understanding of and fluency in mathematics in an effort to ensure they can not only pass tests but retain what they have learned over the course of a lifetime.

Clayton will supplement the core standards with the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework of Mathematics. Shepard spoke of the high praise the Massachusetts framework has received throughout the country. She said she sees it as a perfect supplement to Clayton’s updated curriculum.

Presenters also discussed ongoing professional development and the adoption of a new textbook line for classrooms at and . In 2014, the committee wants to see all of the district's elementary school teachers proficient in Algebra II and its middle school teachers proficient in geometry and Algebra II.

The committee has endorsed the Holt McDougal line of textbooks for math classes at Wydown and honors classes at Clayton High. Committee members told the board that these textbooks would bring fluency to the district's mathematics curriculum. They said that must be present along with conceptual understanding and problem solving.

Board members asked for clarification on much of the report, specifically the section about textbooks. During the course of the review, a field of 10 options was cut to four. Board secretary Lily Raymond said she is worried that cutting so many options leaves the board with too sparse a selection.

“We created this vision together, that we can build a world-class math program for this district,” Raymond said. “We need to make sure that we keep everything in mind before adopting a final product.”

Board treasurer Susan Bradley-Buse stressed that the needs of the students be kept in mind throughout the process.

“Will this document guide us to ensure our teachers and curriculum teach a variety of ways so all of our children can excel?" she asked the committee. “I don’t see that in here.”

Board member Omri Praiss said while presenters specifically mentioned a lack of balance in the district's curriculum, the finding was not described in a 500-page document given to the board about the proposed changes. He said he needs to see that information in the document.

“It takes a lot of courage to make these statements and push for these changes,” Praiss told the committee.

After nearly three hours of debate, the board agreed that standards must be set so that they can evaluate how well the program works over time. Board members indicated that changes in the curriculum have been in development for nearly six years and that they understand there is no going back.

“We need to fully understand the consequences of this decision before going down this path,” board President Sonny Buttar said. “The trend in education has always been to jump on what’s new, and we need to make sure that (the core standards) will provide the balanced education our children need to succeed.”

The board will receive the final draft of the review in June.


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