Montgomery County students moving faster than their peers in math will have the chance to take “compacted” classes starting in fourth grade under new education standards designed to make instruction more challenging and uniform nationwide.
The compacted courses will teach material in a shorter amount of time and will be available at all schools. But the district will have very strict guidelines as to which students will be eligible for the classes.
The Montgomery County Board of Education and school system officials spent three hours Tuesday discussing mathematics education as the county works to implement Curriculum 2.0, Montgomery’s plan to meet new, more rigorous national education standards called Common Core.
The discussion also comes amid parent concerns that the county’s efforts to meet Common Core standards have made it more difficult for students to skip grades and accelerate in math, leaving some high-achieving students bored.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said enriched and accelerated learning is built into the new curriculum, which is more difficult than what the county previously taught. Starr said it is no longer necessary to move students to a higher grade to provide them with advanced instruction.
“We do not intend to label kids’ mathematical placement with a different grade level than the one they are in, which doesn’t mean the work that they get doesn’t reflect a higher standard,” Starr said.
School officials are working to set guidelines for who will be eligible for the compacted classes and for the specifics of class instruction. One example of compacting could combine math from grades 4, 5 and 6 into two years instead of three.
Students who take compacted classes starting in fourth grade could get to geometry by eighth grade, one year ahead of the Montgomery County expectation and two years ahead of many other school systems in the United States.
But “the criteria for participating in compacted curriculum must be tight,” Starr said. “We will not be allowed to set our kids up for failure.”
Parents also have complained that under Curriculum 2.0, students of mixed abilities learn math together in small groups in a single classroom instead of being grouped into separate classrooms based on ability. But under Montgomery County's previous policy, too many students were pushed into higher levels of math too soon, according to a report from educators, experts and parents who studied the issue in 2008 and 2009. Some students struggled in high school because they didn’t fully learn important principles and lost interest in math.
Adopted by more than 45 states, math under Common Core focuses less on rote learning and computation and more on reasoning, problem solving and application. Students are learning fewer concepts in a single grade, but they are spending more time on each concept.
“We want students to love math,” said Theresa A. Cepaitis, director of Montgomery County’s elementary integrated curriculum team. “We want them to see math as sensible and doable.”