Much to the disappointment of Fairfield elementary school parents who wanted to see the district adopt the Singapore Math program in order to comply with the state's Common Core Standards, the District Textbook Review Committee has recommended that the district postpone the adoption of a text-book-based teaching method, for now, and continue with development of its Math Instructional Model — an in-district "patchwork" approach to math instruction — for grades pre-K through 2.
During Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, which was packed to standing room only by teachers and concerned parents, members of the committee explained that after extensive analysis of four popular text-book-based math programs — Singapore Math, TERC Investigations, Stepping Stones and Math in Focus — including onsite visits to three area schools where those programs have already been implemented, it was determined that none perfectly meets the Fairfield School District's needs.
Further the committee members, including teachers and department heads, determined that all four would have to be supplemented in some way in order to sync them with the Math Instructional Model, which was implemented in grades 3-5 last year, as well as to meet the Common Core criteria.
Therefore the the committee recommended that the district postpone adoption of a new text-book-based program and await the introduction of new methods which are being developed in response to the criteria set forth in the Common Core Standards, to see if those will better meet the district's needs.
Walter Wakeman, curriculum leader, grades PK-5 math and science, and Anna Cutaia-Leonard, director of elementary education, kicked off their presentation by having several teachers in grades 3-5 speak to the efficacy of the district's Math Instructional Model. In addition they presented a 20 minute video showing the success of recent trials of the program in grades K-2.
Following the video, Wakeman explained the methodology by which the committee evaluated the four text book programs. Specifically he explained how two sets of rubrics were used to measure and compare the performance of each program.
Wakeman said after the analysis of the four programs was complete, the committee polled school staff to develop recommendations for the next course of action, based on the "top two picks" — the TERC program and Math in Focus.
If TERC was the only option, 75% of staff recommended that the district "wait" on implementing the program, and continue with development of the Math Instructional Model, while 25% said go ahead and buy the TERC textbook for next year, and layer the Math Instructional Model on top of it.
With Math in Focus offered as a second option, 65% of staff recommended TERC, with the Math Instructional Model layered on top of it; 25% said "wait;" and 10% said buy Math in Focus and layer the Math Instructional Model on top of it, he said.
Recently the committee members visited three school districts to see first hand how the programs are implemented in the classroom. Specifically they visited the Westport elementary schools, which are using Singapore Math; the New Canaan elementary schools, which are using TERC; and the Weston elementary schools, which are using Math in Focus. Wakeman said each district has had success with its respective program — however he pointed out that in all three cases the program had to be supplemented in order for it to align properly with the district's in-house curriculum.
Wakeman said although all four textbook programs have unique features and strengths, none are what might be considered a "magic resource." He pointed out that regardless of which one is selected, the district's in-house curriculum would be layered over it.
Following the presentation, Board of Education member John Convertito said he was "disappointed that there was no conclusion to this, considering the number of calls and emails I received about it," from concerned parents. He wanted to know if the other districts visited by the committee members concurred with the assessment of each program. "Did they find the same shortcomings and strengths that you found?" he asked.
Wakeman replied that each district was highly satisfied with the results of the program it had implemented — however he pointed out that the committee never saw Stepping Stones in action, due to a snow day. He said each district they visited has had to supplement its program in some way, however he was not specific.
Board member Perry Liu said he too was "concerned that we're back at square one" and questioned whether the current Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley textbook, which has been in use in 2003, was "out of date."
Wakeman replied that the although the Foresman textbook is old, it is just one component in the Math Instructional Model. He said although the textbook isn't used cover-to-cover, many sections of it are still effective and relevant as part of the curriculum.
Liu also said he was troubled by the fact that the district didn't have a schedule for when it would be selecting a new textbook program — rather that it would just wait until a new program was developed that would be a better fit. "Right now we have no date for when an appropriate resource will be found," he said, adding that he wanted a timeline.
Cutaia-Leonard said the district "won't sit around and wait" for a new textbook to appear on the horizon, rather it would forge ahead with the development of the in-house Math Instructional Model, in essence extneding it to grades pre-k through 2.
Convertito said he would prefer to see the district adopt a comprehensive, packaged and field-tested textbook program, not only to avoid the pitfalls of experimentation but also for the sake of curriculum consistency. Further he said a packaged program would make it simpler for the district to provide parents with a "guide" to the program, thus giving them a "reference point" and greater insight into its workings.
Cutaia-Leonard acknowledged that the district needs to further develop the parent communication piece of the Math Instructional Model, and added that staff is currently working on that.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, dozens of teachers and parents presented their views on the matter, with a majority of school staff speaking in support of the current Math Instructional Model.
Numerous school parents, however, said they wanted to see the district adopt the Singapore Math Program. With speaker and speaker approaching the podium, the board soaked in more than 90 minutes of comments. In total the meeting lasted nearly four hours.
The school board will take action on the District Textbook Review Committee's recommendation at a later date.