For much of the past decade, Montgomery County prided itself on its growing ranks of speedy math students who were taking courses well beyond their grade level and hop-skipping their way to college-level math in high school.
The new curriculum, which has been rolled out through second grade
in many schools, puts a heavy foot on the breaks. The new approach discourages acceleration. It’s a response to concerns that too many students were hitting Algebra with too many holes in their basic math abilities.
But two years in, parents are now trying to figure out how they feel about having a second grader who can’t go beyond second grade math. The Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday channeled some of these concerns to school officials during a briefing on the new curriculum.
“We have been so aggressive about acceleration; it has been the culture of this place,” said board member Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring). “I think that there is a sense from some parents that we have abandoned the responsibility that we have for young people who should and can accelerate.”
School officials said the new curriculum is more challenging than the previous one, that it pulls down concepts from higher grades.
Instead of pushing students ahead, the goal is to work with them in small groups according to their skill level. The curriculum includes a specific path for enrichment.
“The teachers have to do the work to meet the needs of those kids,” said Tamisha L. Sampson, principal at Sargent Shriver Elementary School in Silver Spring. “There is really no other option other than that.”
This is not a satisfying response to some parents whose second graders who are still doing subtraction in class even though they can run through multiplication tables at home.
Officials said the early grades are not the best place to start accelerating, though, because that’s when students are shoring up their foundation. Even if they seem to always get the right answers, they may not understand how they got them.
Superintendent Joshua Starr pointed out that determining who is “really ready” to push ahead is another “layer of complexity.”
One challenge is that it’s harder to measure depth of understanding - the goal of the curriculum- rather than simply how many problems a student can solve on a timed test.
The new curriculum actually makes it harder to skip grades, because it is based on new concepts that build on each other year-to year, rather than ”spiraling” or re-introducing familiar concepts in increasing complexity over time.
Officials said they recognize there is probably a need to accelerate a small number of students beyond their grade level. But they will have to develop a special course series for that.
As all the kinks and nuances are being worked out, board member Phil Kauffman (At Large) asked what this dramatic shift portends for the children who are being exposed first to the new curriculum.
“Are we being unfair to those kids who are on the leading edge of this change?” he asked.