MIDDLETOWN — Parents stood around a high school cafeteria table on Tuesday, puzzling over scraps of paper labeled “coordinate geometry,” “intro to quadratic functions” and “analytic trig.”
Their task was to organize these papers — representing math units from Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-Calculus — into three groups to show that these concepts could all be taught over three years of high school. Each strip of paper also included the number of days it took to teach the lesson listed.
The exercise was part of a workshop run by Richard Cordaway, who directs pre-K to 12 mathematics and intervention for the school district, and Yvonne Daniels, math supervisor for grades six through 12, to explain proposed changes to the mathematics curriculum at the high school. But parents expressed a range of criticisms about the proposals and said they left the workshop without having all of their questions answered.
Daniels told parents that their efforts to change the math curriculum were aligned with goals the State Board of Education outlined in a recent equity statement, including diversifying the courses offered and changing systems that prevent students from having access to certain opportunities.
Cordaway said the demographics of students taking advanced math courses currently didn’t line up with the overall demographics of the district. He added that they wanted to encourage more students to enroll in advanced math courses.
“This proposal opens up opportunities for all students, increases the rigor earlier, and still keeps the path open for those who are already on the advanced mathematics path,” he said.
In a second session, parents were split into groups and asked to discuss three different proposals that teachers in Middletown created in order to fit all the math units into three years.
The proposed curriculum takes concepts from Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-Calculus and places them into three yearlong courses — referred to as Math I, Math II and Math III. Daniels said an advanced option would still be available, with those students beginning Math I in eighth grade rather than ninth grade.
Daniels assured parents that the curriculum changes were not removing any of the concepts that were currently being taught. Instead, the curriculum removes repetitive units taught in both Algebra II and Pre-Calculus, she said.
But Daniels acknowledged they had removed several units on statistics from the former curriculum.
Vanessa Crowley, a fourth-grade teacher in Wethersfield who has a sixth-grader in Middletown, criticized the district’s use of the Illustrative Mathematics Curriculum, which she described as “probably the worst math in the world.”
“We have it in our district. And I teach it. It is horrific. There is no enrichment. There is no nothing. And once you want to enrich someone, you have to go outside of the curriculum and outside of the information that’s provided to you,” Crowley said.
Becky Ficaro, whose son attends the local middle school, said she was also frustrated by changes to the math curriculum.
“My son is in seventh grade. He spent sixth grade just reviewing everything that he already knew from fourth grade, and it was a complete waste of his time,” Ficaro said. “So this year, I bought him a pre-algebra book and an algebra book and I said, ‘You know what, when you’re in math class, just take it out and work on it.’”
Another parent noted the district’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium scores had not increased, even with the advent of the Illustrative Math Curriculum. Daniels said this was because, up until two years ago, they had not been offering Illustrative Math in the elementary schools.
“They’ve only been doing Illustrative Math starting in middle school. So by then, they come in with the gap that they come in with,” she said.
Daniels said that this year, the number of sixth-graders on the path to the advanced mathematics track had increased by a third, which she attributed to the use of the Illustrative Math Curriculum.
“When I got to Middletown Public Schools, when we looked at the scores, the gap that was there is not there anymore,” Daniels said. “It’s because that [Illustrative Math] curriculum is now bringing that rigor earlier.”
Sanjay Rambhia, who teaches math at Conard High School in West Hartford, said he thought the district should be strengthening its Pre-Algebra courses so more students would be prepared for Algebra I.
“We have weak Pre-Algebra courses. That’s the problem,” Rambhia said.
In West Hartford, Rambhia said, schools offered three sections of A/B Calculus and one or two sections of B/C Calculus; Middletown offered just one section of A/B Calculus.
He suggested that Middletown only offer AP Calculus rather than an honors calculus course, arguing seniors would choose the less rigorous option, which would backfire when they got to college.
“Professors hate it because kids usually get A’s in that type of class, and they’re the ones who actually skip calculus class when they go to college. So it actually works backwards,” Rambhia said.
But Rambhia acknowledged that Pre-Calculus courses repeated a lot of topics taught in Algebra II, and didn’t see a problem with consolidating high school math courses into three years.
“I think this is their idea: If we can end up having three years compressed, get rid of the redundancy, then we can have calculus offered for every kid who gets to that level,” Rambhia said. “There’s nothing wrong with that idea.”
Parent Cris Freer told CT Examiner that she wanted the district to go back to teaching Pre-Algebra in sixth and seventh grades, and to end the practice of having students take two math classes in the same year.
Marcela Oteiza, a parent and associate professor of dance at Wesleyan University, told CT Examiner she was extremely frustrated by the way the workshop meeting had been run.
“We were not given any possibility to share our thoughts, our ideas, our concerns. And we were made to play with pieces of paper without actually being able to engage in a proper discussion. This is ridiculous,” she said.
Oteiza said she was planning to remove her seventh-grade daughter from the public schools system in Middletown. She said she wants the district to keep its current method of teaching, and also expressed concerns about scholarship access for students applying to non-state colleges.
“They’re saying this is equitable? Actually, it’s not. Because one of the ways to actually move up in society is with good education and allow us to go to different types of universities,” she said.