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Math curriculum to be scrutinized.

Byline: Josephine Woolington The Register-Guard

Most middle and high school students in the Eugene School District will continue during the upcoming school year to use a new math curriculum that has been praised by some teachers and criticized by others.

Some parents and Eugene School Board members have asked the district for more clarity about its plans to continue implementing College Preparatory Mathematics, or CPM, after several high school teachers and parents spoke out against the curriculum.

School board member Anne Marie Levis said at a meeting earlier this month that the district needs to be transparent about the curriculum change.

"This issue has caused a lot of mistrust for the board and for the district, and I believe we need to pay attention to that (conversation) in the community," Levis said of the group of parents that have criticized the curriculum.

Opponents say it's unclear whether the district is testing out the program, or has in effect adopted it even though the school board hasn't voted on it.

A district spokeswoman previously said the board would vote to adopt the curriculum in the fall, but Superintendent Sheldon Berman said last week that the district now will go through a formal math curriculum adoption process that probably wouldn't take place until at least next year, depending on any action board members may take.

Teachers will be able to test out other math curricula and pick their favorite, Berman said. The process could take up to a year, he said.

The CPM curriculum encourages students to work with their peers to discover math concepts as a group. It is a dramatic shift away from traditional math teaching, in which teachers show students math concepts and give them practice problems.

To help students meet the more rigorous nationalized standards, known as the Common Core, Berman suggested teachers try CPM. Teacher interest in the curriculum "grew organically" from school to school, Berman previously said, and the district felt it wasn't necessary to go through a formal adoption process at the time.

He authorized spending $565,405 to buy the new textbooks - with taxpayers shouldering about 80 percent of the cost. The district initially said CPM textbooks would be purchased using donated funds. Berman's decision to use public funds has been criticized by some parents and teachers.

Berman said CPM will serve as a "temporary fix" for at least the next school year until a formal curriculum change. He said the district "had an urgent need to address the Common Core."

"It was never intended to be an adoption," he said of CPM.

In the meantime, all middle schools will continue using CPM for math, the district's new director of secondary education, Randy Bernstein, said.

Students taking math through the second year of algebra at Churchill, North Eugene and South Eugene high schools will use CPM, Bernstein said. The district has not purchased textbooks to teach CPM in higher-level math courses, such as precalculus and calculus, he said.

The district will need to buy 40 more textbooks for classes at Churchill, Bernstein said.

Teachers at Sheldon have publicly criticized the curriculum and district officials met with the school's math department last week to hear their concerns. Bernstein said his sense is that Sheldon teachers will continuing using CPM during the upcoming school year to some degree. For example, teachers may supplement lessons with CPM work problems.

"It's important to emphasize that CPM is not controversial across all our schools," Bernstein wrote in a memo sent to school board members earlier this month. "In many, it's embraced very positively.

"It's also of value to separate the issue of how CPM was introduced and selected, from its merit and value as a math curriculum," he said.

Five Sheldon teachers said in a letter to the school board in June that district officials did not give teachers a choice between CPM and other math curricula.

"Not once were high school teachers offered an opportunity to examine what publishers had to offer," the teachers wrote. "Not once were high school teachers offered to be on a committee to discuss the pros and cons of any program. Not once were high school teachers told that money was available to even purchase a new math curriculum."

The teachers wrote that the curriculum will not prepare students for the Common Core standards and urged the board not to adopt the program.

At Churchill, the math department had similar division among teachers, with some teachers refusing to teach CPM last year. All teachers agreed this year to try the program.

Three Churchill math teachers have said that their students failed at a higher rate using CPM. If that failure rate continues during the upcoming school year, the teachers said they will "supplement and/or go back to our previously used curriculum for the good of the students because students are who we are here to serve."

Bernstein said it's too early to evaluate CPM's success by looking at test scores. Math scores on standardized tests for both middle and high schoolers, however, increased in 2013-14 compared to 2012-13. Bernstein said the district can't attribute that increase to CPM yet, but noted that when districts change curriculum, typically scores go down.

Bernstein said the district's budget for the upcoming school year includes funds to support using CPM. The district replaced its teacher on special assignment with a teacher who has experience using CPM.

The district also hired Maddy Ahearn to serve as a math curriculum administrator. Ahearn previously taught math at North Eugene High School and is a ardent supporter of inquiry-based math programs, such as CPM.

Ahearn said she taught algebra with CPM and worked as a math coach to help teachers with CPM lessons. She worked mostly with students who struggled with math and found that CPM lessons were successful and gave students "a rich and rigorous text."

Ahearn replaced the district's math director, Chris Castillero, who resigned in July after working two years in the district. He's now working for a school district in Wisconsin.

Follow Josephine on Twitter @j_woolington. Email
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Title Annotation:Eugene School District; The Eugene district program will go through a formal adoption process after opposition and questions arise
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 31, 2014
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