Survey to Study Math Curriculum

By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Loudoun County school officials are conducting a broad review of the district's math curriculum and soon will survey teachers, administrators and parents to get their feedback on how the subject is taught.

The questions could go out to teachers this week, and parents will get information in a few weeks on how to take the survey online.

"Math is a big issue across the country right now, so this is no surprise," said Peter Hughes, the district's director of curriculum instruction and a member of the committee conducting the study. "A lot of this is healthy."

The review is partly a response to concerns parents have raised about Math Investigations, an elementary school curriculum that de-emphasizes memorization. It has been introduced in Loudoun and many school districts across the country. Although one of the committee's tasks will be to examine whether the use of that curriculum should be expanded, the study is more comprehensive and will consider a range of possible changes in the math program, officials said.

Math Investigations, developed in the 1990s by a nonprofit group with support from the National Science Foundation, encourages students to find creative ways to solve a problem, including drawing pictures and using objects. Supporters of the approach say it gives students a better understanding of why an answer is correct. Critics say it fails to teach basic math skills.

"It allows people to consider lots of different ways to do things," Hughes said. "It generated some concern."

Loudoun elementary schools began incorporating some of the Math Investigations lessons last fall, following the recommendation of a textbook review committee. But school officials have held off expanding the program.

For this school year, elementary students will get two units of Math Investigations every quarter -- a unit can last up to a week -- unless they attend a school that has a math resource teacher. At schools that have the math specialists, students will receive more instruction in Math Investigations because the students and teachers will have more support, school officials said.

"It's a blended approach we're using right now," Hughes said.

The district's math review committee is made up of parents, teachers and administrators. Hughes said it will spend the next several months gathering and evaluating data on elementary math instruction, with the goal of submitting recommendations by January to Sharon Ackerman, the district's assistant superintendent for instruction. Later, the panel will focus on the secondary math program.

The committee began its work last spring, when members hosted parent information meetings and started looking at local, state and national studies on math achievement. Among the studies was a report this year from the National Math Advisory Panel that called for schools to focus more on helping students master fundamental skills and overcome anxiety about math.

Results from this fall's survey of Loudoun educators and parents will play a role in the committee's recommendations.

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