Letter: Data Show Pilot Math Program is 'Detrimental' to Students' Learning

Fairfield parents obtained empirical study on College Preparatory Math from superintendent in Illinois -- his findings are included in the letter.

[Editor's note: Bold text emphasized by the letter-writer.]

New empirical evidence proves that CPM instruction is detrimental to student’s learning.  Parents have been requesting data to prove the effectiveness and success of College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM), which is being used to teach Algebra I this year in the Fairfield Public School District. Fairfield administrators have provided no independent evidence. Instead, parents have been provided non-statistical and invalid support of CPM’s effectiveness.  

Repeatedly, parents have been telling administrators that their children are struggling and outside tutoring is needed. Due to lack of response, an ever growing group of parents have diligently researched this math program and made inquiries in other districts that at one time used this program (CPM).

Through “self-discovery” and “perseverance”, parents finally identified current statistical evidence to prove this CPM negatively impacts students’ performance. Last week, parents were sent a new empirical study on CPM that was published by a Superintendent in Illinois.  He completed a Statistical Analysis of the CPM Curriculum for the Zion-Benton High School Class of 2014 using ACT’s Educational Planning and Assessment System. This study is consistent with articles and studies repeatedly demonstrating CPM’s shortcomings and failures, since introduced almost 20 years ago in California.

With a cohort of Zion-Benton High School students who strictly used CPM, this longitudinal study found the following:

Entering Freshman year, 39.3 percent of the students were meeting College Readiness Benchmarks. We all know this number should improve as they move students through high school math. However at Zion-Benton High School, the opposite occurred. In their Sophomore year, the percentage meeting College Readiness Benchmarks dropped by 11 percent. By Junior year, the percentage meeting College Readiness Benchmarks dropped another 10 percent. After two years of CPM math, only 18.7 percent were meeting these benchmarks.

The Conclusion: CPM instruction negatively impacted student performance. CPM lowered test scores, as well as widened the gap among students, as proven through an increase in the standard deviation. Most, if not all, of these students will need some sort of remediation prior to entering Pre-Calculus or Calculus.

The main findings of this report are that student exposure to CPM curriculum does not result in improved College Readiness performance over the two years examined. In fact, the gap doubles during the freshman year and quadruples during the sophomore year between Zion-Benton High School students’ performance and College Readiness Benchmarks.

The BOE refused to remove CPM in December; administrators admitted an error in the roll out of CPM with no remediation; and now more time has passed.  At this point, it is time for accountability in Central Office.  Through various FOIA requests, it has been found that the administrators rushed to purchase and implement CPM without proper due diligence.


Dawn Llewellyn

Brian February 27, 2013 at 01:03 PM
I doubt Fairfield's math coordinator sent out the new study. That said, the Zion information may not be germane. Striking teachers, double the sized schools, far greater number of minority students, and more students receiving free/reduced lunch do not sound like the Fairfield's environment. Is the "self discovery" and "perseverance" too much for our students, or are some parents upset about how the transition was handled?
TJC February 27, 2013 at 06:23 PM
too much math in that letter for me to unnerstan' it. too many numbers. scary.
momof3 February 27, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Brian, you bring up some great points. 46% of students at Zion are economically disadvantaged. Now, that doesn't mean that these kids can flourish in math, but more goes into academic success and failure than just the text book being used. I also noticed on CPM website that training classes were being given at Zion. Maybe teacher's had not received the proper professional development. Also, US News and World Report's data on Zion shows that its students are just below the state average in math proficiency. I don't think the results of this one school district qualify as proof that CPM won't work here.
BOEPT February 28, 2013 at 03:08 AM
That is the point CPM has been primarily implemented in towns/cities with demographics similar to Zion-Benton, as demonstrated by the different studies that parents have found (http://fairfieldmathadvocates.com/railside-case-study/ see slide p.3) As Jo Boaler is a proponent of this program, you will recall CPM is disproportionately focused on team aspects so as to have a social impact as well as mathematical. Some academics state that CPM's focus is more on the social aspect than mathematical (http://fairfieldmathadvocates.com/cpm-complex-instruction-railside-study/ ). Fairfield does not fit the demographics for which CPM is designed - points well taken! On the other hand, Singapore Math (statistically proven track record) is equally effective in both diverse and homogeneous populations. This is evidence in the fact it is being used in both Bridgeport and New Haven as well as Wilton, Weston and Westport. A math program should work on every population with the necessary supports in place. Let us invest in the best math programs for our elementary and secondary Fairfield students! We want to be able to add when we grow up (http://fairfieldmathadvocates.com/fairfield-math-deptment-thinks-8512-fuzzy-math/). In order to be fiscally responsible the district should not be PURCHASING ANYTHING that does not have a PROVEN TRACK RECORD (used in top performing districts).
parentof3 February 28, 2013 at 05:51 AM
Well said BOEPT!! Pretty sick and tired of the kids being at the short end of the stick. Educators get these ivory tower ideas in their head. Let some other school district be the guinea pigs. I hate it when educators tell parents to trust them. Let us reverse that on them. Trust us... we probably care more about our own kids and know better than educators if something is working or not. The results from CPM are just NOT good enough. The common response from people who hear how CPM works is... "Are you serious?" Where is the sense of Excellence ? CPM is not working in Fairfield!!! Fairfield Admin should just take the feedback home and come back with something Better!! Stop wasting everybody's time and in particular stop wasting our Student's time.... literally. Find something that works for everybody. Other districts have managed that and so can Fairfield. Implement Excellent Education... partner with the community of parents... isn't that what the Board of Ed administrators are paid to do? What people specifically made the decision to recommend this to the BOE for the district anyway?
momof3 February 28, 2013 at 12:08 PM
@parentof3--Don't you think there needs to be some level of trust? I am not a math expert. I can do searches on the web about Singapore Math or CPM, but that still doesn't make me a math expert. I have put my trust in this town's educators for over a decade, and so far, I can't complain about the results. They are the experts. We are paying them for their expertise. Have to trust that they want what we want, for children to succeed. If kids aren't succeeding, they will be held accountable--even more so in the upcoming years.
momof3 February 28, 2013 at 12:57 PM
BOEPT--So CPM can successfully teach math to kids who are economically disadvantaged, but can't teach kids who live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country? Wooburn Academy of Arts, Science and Technology uses CPM. 76% of student body is economically disadvantaged; nonetheless, the school performs better in math than the state average (granted it is a small school). Teaching math in a social setting is not necessarily a bad thing. If you understand math well enough to talk about it in a group setting, discuss it with your peers while in elementary and secondary school--have to think that is just going to help kids as they move forward and need to work in teams while in the work force. Easier to learn something, memorize it, spit it back out on paper than to learn something and then speak about it to others. Believe it takes a greater understanding of the concepts behind the calculations in order to speak about math--maybe that is why kids are struggling. How great it will be though when that struggle gives them a higher skill set. I still want to see the data that shows that CPM isn't working in Fairfield. Data. And let us not loss sight of the fact that CPM is a text. Fairfield may not be following CPM curriculum the way other schools do. Fairfield will write it's own curriculum, CPM may or may not be the text used, but in the end it will be the curriculum and the teachers the drive instruction.
BOEPT February 28, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Several points of clarification on your comments: SCHOOL HIGHLIGHTS: Woodburn Academy Of Art, Science And Technology serves 361 students in grades 9-12. The school's student: teacher ratio of 19:1 The school's 59% graduation rate is lower than the OR state average of 80%. Wish the Administrators would provide information on the Fairfield Public School Website with all this statistical information, like other school districts! Seem like the economically disadvantaged school can perform this simple task! The question that remains unanswered: what towns, similar to Fairfield, have had success with CPM? Numerous success stories exist where Singapore Math is utilized. It is too bad that the District is unable to admit that they may have made a mis-step and that they should provide our children with a PROVEN curriculum. As a point of clarification, CPM is a curriculum, instructional method and textbook (http://www.cpm.org/parents/what.htm). Yes, statistical DATA to support the success of CPM would be helpful- not pie charts showing more A's this year than last year or One CAPT questions from Algebra I students vs Sophomores in various math level classes- I agree.
Dawn Llewellyn February 28, 2013 at 01:50 PM
Parents have trusted the administrators over the past few years, but now there is a wake -up call… when your child is in middle school and cannot spell or write proper sentences. Why has the district not taught grammar, vocabulary and spelling over the past few years? Is it because children would need to MEMORIZE? Parents who are concerned are trying to play catch up! Now, these administrators are asking us to do the same with MATH! Apparently, we know what is best for our kids! Ask any middle school teacher what they think... when these kids enter middle school more than half of them have no idea how to use commas, colons and semi-colons nor do they know the eight parts of speech... GREAT JOB FAIRFIELD ADMINISTRATORS! What do you think is on the SAT' s and ACT's? So parents go out and hire tutors to fill in the BIG gaps, because this information was left out of the CURRICULUM! I think we are past TRUST- they are far from experts! By the way, it doesn't end there. At the high school level, it is a big problem too! I don't know where the accountability is... are they paying for the tutoring? Maybe we should submit our tutoring bills to Central Office. If our district adopts these crazy math programs, we will see the same problems, but this time in MATH!
R. Ludlowe February 28, 2013 at 02:15 PM
If your kid gets to middle school and can't spell, use proper grammar or write sentences then shame on YOU for letting him get that far! You can't sit here and lay all of the blame on an under-funded school system. He's your kid. Take part in his education. Stop the finger pointing.
momof3 February 28, 2013 at 07:06 PM
BOEPA--where are you getting your graduation rates for Woodburn? I read that it's 2012 graduation rate was 75% and state average was 68%. http://schools.oregonlive.com/school/Woodburn/Woodburn-Academy-of-Art-Science-and-Technology/ As far as your unanswered question--define success, and how is success measured. Westport is in it's second year of using Singapore Math, did test scores significantly increase there last year? And what if scores increase for Fairfield this year after using the CPM text for a year? Would that data show that CPM was the right choice? In the attempt to become more educated about this topic, I have done a fair amount of reading, and have found a lot of differing opinions on the best to teach math. Honestly, it isn't clear to me what the right answer is. Maybe there isn't one.
parentof3 February 28, 2013 at 08:49 PM
momof3 - here is the thing. You may still trust the Fairfield system and trust their decision making ability, just as I did for the last 5 years. But now I see that perhaps my trust was Misplaced. I am actually pretty shocked. Maybe this is all you know so it all seems fine. But I have family, friends, colleagues from other states and from many other parts of the world. Trust me when I say this is NOT Excellence and should not be stood for. The fact that you are so complacent says much about your standards and expectations. This whole thing is a wake-up call to Fairfield parents. The fact that there is a growing number of concerned parents and that there are kids arriving unprepared for high school and middle schools tells me that something is wrong as a general matter. Maybe not for you but you are one person and your expectations may just be lower than others... that is fine. It is good to be satisfied and happy. BUT The Fairfield Public Schools are supposed to be bettering the overall Public. They like our neighboring districts have an obligation to deliver Excellence. If Bridgeport can afford to onboard the BEST math program out there then so can Fairfield. If you have not been able to do YOUR OWN research and figure that out then your opinions will need to be discounted going forward.
parentof3 February 28, 2013 at 09:09 PM
R Ludlowe- I am someone who does not usually get involved in these affairs. But I now see that I have to. When you start saying things like it is only the parent's duty to make sure that something as basic as English grammar is taught, tells us something about you as well... Are you one of our educators or administration or a relation or good friend of one? Because to say something like that reflects an absurd defensive posture. Of course parents reinforce what kids learn at school. And if they have the luxury of time and ability to supplement, they do. But something as core as grammar and math we expect children to be taught at school. Children are at school for almost 6hours sometimes more, 5 days a week. Isn't that why parents send the kids to SCHOOL? If they wanted to homeschool the kids, they would be doing that.
parentof3 February 28, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Another point.... Why is it that colleagues from Asia, Europe and South Africa arrive into some of the best US jobs with better English grammar, beautiful English handwriting and a stronger proficiency in Math. I can assure that their parents did not teach them English grammar, given that English is their second language. Would you ever consider that just maybe.. they have been provided with a better education because of higher school standards and expect more of their educators?! I see the CCS as our country's way of trying to IMPROVE the education in the US. The world is getting more competitive. You should be on the side of the children - trying to prepare them for an even tougher world. Shame on us if we allow "educators" to abdicate their responsibility to provide Excellent education and particularly in light of the insane taxes we all pay. We don't even require fluency in a second language - please.... Shame on you for being so complicit. Shame on you for not DEMANDING more and better for OUR children... your children. And remember if you really mean that it is parent's job to make sure their kids are educated then it means MORE articles like this pointing out when it is NOT happening. The first step to making things better is to ADMIT that there is a PROBLEM.
momof3 February 28, 2013 at 10:48 PM
parentof3--who determined that Singapore Math is the BEST program out there? Discount my opinions if you want, but don't discount them because I haven't done the research, because I assure you I have. There is conflicting information out there. US Department of Education ranked CPM as an exemplary math curriculum, but some scientists and mathematicians disagreed. Some districts are moving away from CPM. There has been intense criticism by some. Some districts have had mixed results with Singapore. Those districts that have had good results with Singapore have invested heavily in teacher development. I understand the temptation to just think Singapore is the best as they ranked first in the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (Korea was first in 2011), but it would be wrong to think that the US could expect the same results simply by adopting the Singaporean curriculum. Many other factors come into play when determining Singapore's success. I assure you, my expectations for my children are not lower than yours. I see where there are weaknesses in the system. I have also seen the district attempt to correct these weaknesses.
parentof3 March 01, 2013 at 01:01 AM
Ahhh. You hit the nail on the head. Good results in education came from well-developed teachers... We have to invest in our teachers, which directly benefits our children. If we do not train our teachers as well as our neighboring towns and countries then we of course will have inferior results- and the kids coming out of Fairfield will be disadvantaged in CT, in the US and in the world. Well trained teachers are a huge % of the solution. Since you have just clearly identified the problem. Then let's fix it. The district should not pick an inferior program because they are worried the teachers cant teach a better one. If the district picks a good program, parents will rally behind them to figure out a way to make it work. Attempting to correct the weakness is not the same as doing it. If it all comes back to money. I am sure you will find a group of financially savvy parents who would sit down for FREE and go through the budget and discover what can be cut or how to raise money, without sacrificing the quality of education for the children.
parentof3 March 01, 2013 at 01:07 AM
If the educators are truly trustworthy then don't tell us that CPM and TERC are great. That does not help in the trust camp. Tell us SPM is great but we have some training cost issues that we all have to figure out to achieve the results we want. Be honest. The beauty of having a real text is that parents and teachers will be on the SAME page so that we can reinforce on both ends, which does not happen now. I am not going to debate whether SMP is the best or not. If it is not, it is next best. Obama could pick any program in the world to educate his daughters in math. He has all the experts in the world at his disposal. He picked SMP. Enough said. Please don't ask for blind trust. Trust is something that is earned when we see honest, good decisions being made. The BOE and CO have captured the public's attention with all of this. Depending on what happens with all this Math, trust will either be earned or lost and hard won back.
momof3 March 01, 2013 at 01:45 AM
Parentof3--We are in agreement that it all comes down to the teachers--regardless of what text is ultimately chosen. In reading about Singapore's educational system, a few things struck me. 1. Centralized Education does have it's benefits (especially in a nation wealthy enough to implement it's desired goals 2. How teachers are viewed in Singapore is vastly different than how they are viewed in the US. Teachers in Singapore are rewarded for performance (up to 30% of their salaries). The Ministry of Education in Singapore reviews teacher salaries to make sure they are competitive with other professions. Unlike in the US where teachers take a variety of courses in many different disciplines to become a teacher. In Singapore, if you want to be a math teacher, your coursework is specialized from the start in mathematics. Everyone who wants to be a teacher goes to the same school. The professional development offered to teachers by the government is incredible. There are real societal differences in how education is viewed and valued. Adopting Common Core is a start to have some consistency across the nation, but the US is faces with some challenges that Singapore is not (our size, our diverse population, our structure of government.) I don't think the fact that Obama picked a school with Singapore math is really proof that it is the best. Who knows what factored into why he sent his girls to the school he did.
momof3 March 01, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Also, one criticism of Singapore Math is that it does not address certain 21st century math skills as well as the US does. These skills include probability, reasoning, making connections, statistics and communication. All of these skills are important to succeed in a variety of professions. The US just needs to be better at teaching these skills. Again it comes back to professional development of teachers. In Singapore, teachers are encouraged to get 100 hours of professional development per year. Think Fairfield will pay for that type of PD for all of its teachers? I doubt it; this town complains when teachers get a cost of living increase. Personally, I think the ideal curriculum focuses on mastery of algorithms in the early grades. Kids need to learn how to compute. Once those skills are mastered, I am all for inquiry based learning in a group setting, with the teacher being an active participant and leader in the process. Ideally, I'd like to see the district write its own curriculum which addresses common core standards, incorporates the strengths of Singapore Math as well as the strengths found in US frameworks. Let that be the driving force of instruction.
Dawn Llewellyn March 01, 2013 at 02:29 AM
Another great idea! Why can't our curriculum leaders write their own curriculum? Why didn't our curriculum leaders exceed the common core when they developed the new curriculum, since this is the minimum benchmark? You can exceed the common core by 15%. Why can't our curriculum leaders incorporate the strengths of Singapore Math and focus on mastery of algorithms as opposed to overemphasizing conceptual understanding and manipulatives to solve problems? ....And why can't this happen? Are you saying that Westport students will not be as well educated as the rest of the US population and they will not have certain 21st century math skills? Then you contradict yourself, because you state that the US needs to be better at teaching these skills... so who is better at teaching the math skills...Singapore or US? Now, I am confused. Well, if we get rid of a few inefficient curriculum leaders, their stipends could cover PD for these teachers for a few years. Let us invest wisely in both the students and teachers of Fairfield.
momof3 March 01, 2013 at 03:10 AM
I don't think I contradicted myself. US is focusing on some different skills than Singapore. These skills are valuable, but the US needs to still do better in teaching these skills because students still aren't mastering statistics, probability etc. I think Singapore is probably better at preparing students for careers in math and science because there is a strong focus on mastering mathematical concepts, but the US is probably better at giving a larger population the math skills they will need to apply math in more diverse circumstances. I am not saying anything about Westport. Personally, i don't think Westport is relevant to this discussion. They have only been using Singapore Math for a year and a half, prior to that, they had written their own curriculum and had an online text book. Sounds like they are still figuring things out as well. I'd like to see a few years of data before declaring Westport the model that everyone else should follow. And I was under the impression that our curriculum leaders and teachers were writing the curriculum, and then choosing a text that they felt aligned with the curriculum they had written. That is what prompted me to comment on this post in the first place. I really didn't think that the district was adopting the CPM curriculum verbatim.
parentof3 March 01, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Think what you will but at the end of the day, if the teachers are as weak as you imply then weak teachers will lean heavily on the curriculum text to teach. This is why selecting a strong text with a lot of math content (not discussion materials) is important. That way if the teachers are not competent enough to teach the materials well, the kids can just go home, figure out how to do the problems their own way with parent assistance. Here is another idea. If you think the population of students is so different, perhaps they should offer two math tracks. A CPM math track for those kids that don't have the aptitude or interest in pursuing a future job requiring higher levels of math skills but want to learn the basic applications for life. And a second SMP math track for those students with a stronger math aptitude or interest in potentially being prepared for careers requiring strength in math in science. There would be less SMP training costs. Then no one is short changed and everyone is happy. How about that?
R. Ludlowe March 01, 2013 at 04:13 AM
How early would that split have to start? Are we asking First Graders what their career ambitions are so that we can put them in the right Math track?
parentof3 March 01, 2013 at 05:15 AM
I thought CPM was a middle school choice. Kids, teachers, parents pretty much know if they like or are good at math by then. But since you mention it, if you want to consider elementary. I think all of elem. is better off with Singapore Math at the beginning. SM creates a stronger foundation with both math fact fluency and great conceptual/pictoral learning. TERC and CPM are too focused on conceptual at too young an age - misses out on the fluency of computation skills that Momof3 accurately points out. SM gives both number rigor and pictoral concepts- just right. But if too rigorous for all kids then create two math tracks. Kids that are good at math or who have parents who want a more rigorous math experience can elect SMP. Otherwise they can receive the other CMP equivalent. Seems a good compromise but I fear that TERC is just not rigorous or complete enough to set the foundation. Those kids would be woefully disadvantaged. Why rule out the possibility of a math or science career so early? So I go back to SM for everyone in elem. up to say 3rd gr. Have a split math option starting in say 4th grade in prep for middle school further splitting. At least in SMP we will know that everyone is fluent in + and - and introduced to x and / by 3rd gr. completion. So the basic foundation is achieved. If the child is struggling with x and / they can gain more confidence by moving into the "conceptual math" track. If the kids are picking it up fine, they move on in SMP.
momof3 March 01, 2013 at 12:16 PM
First of all, I am not implying that Fairfield's teacher's are weak. Merely stating that Singapore's teachers are trained differently than US teachers, and that plays a role in student outcomes. Nor was I saying that Fairfield's curriculum wouldn't focus on grasping early math skills at an early age. Nor was I say that Fairfield's math curriculum wouldn't prepare students for careers in math and science. Was speaking at a national level--comparing how math had been taught in US as compared to how it was taught in Singapore, up until this point. I wasn't specifically talking about CPM either. Please don't twist my words. You were implying that I had not done my research on this subject, and I was merely pointing out that I had, and have found that there is not hard data that proves Singapore math is necessarily the BEST as some are leading us to believe. Also, I don't get it. Parents are complaining that their kids are struggling with conceptual math; yet these are the kids, that are supposedly would be able to handle the rigor that you say Singapore math will provide? Seems contradictory. Maybe I am willing to put more trust in the school district to develop a math program that will enable our kids to be successful. I feel I owe them some level of trust. I have kids in secondary school. Both are in honors math. Both are doing well. I have not had to hire tutors. So far, their elementary education gave them the skill set they needed to succeed.
parentof3 March 02, 2013 at 02:12 AM
"I think Singapore is probably better at preparing students for careers in math and science because there is a strong focus on mastering mathematical concepts" I took that to mean that if my child might one day consider a career involving math or science I would prefer that they be trained with Singapore Math than CPM or TERC. If I misunderstood your meaning... apologies. But I still think that statement is correct. And why would I want to cut off my child's options at so young an age? So Singapore Math by default. Have a good weekend.


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