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Math curriculum a core problem at Northwestern High School

Maple school district is looking for ways to change or improve its high school math program. Northwestern High School students learn the subject using Core Mathematics, an integrated math system. But the School Board has heard concerns from paren...

Maple school district is looking for ways to change or improve its high school math program.

Northwestern High School students learn the subject using Core Mathematics, an integrated math system. But the School Board has heard concerns from parents who question the program's concepts and teaching methods, board member Eve Zosel said.

The program emphasizes group work; traditional math uses independent practice.

One complaint is that students earn good math grades at Northwestern but struggle with it when they get to college, said Rick Forsythe, a School Board member.

The district conducted an unscientific survey of former students and learned they're not doing well in college math, Zosel said. It found 72 percent of 'B' or better students who responded are struggling in college math, but business students are doing well in statistics, board member Tim Thom said.

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Maple has used the Core Mathematics system for seven years, implementing it with incoming freshmen in 2000. Three classes now have graduated after completing the program.

The Core program covers algebra, geometry, probability, statistics and discrete math, teacher Bob Coleman said. It's a change from the traditional method of teaching mathematics, and that change is difficult, he said.

"We don't want to lose the ground we've gained," said Coleman, who also has heard from parents and students who prefer the method.

The curriculum committee met Wednesday to discuss options, including improving its current Core offerings, switching to a new program or offering a dual track with both traditional and integrated math available as options.

The math department already has made changes to its Core offerings. Last year, it added drills and practice with algebra, but current graduates didn't benefit as result of those changes, Coleman said.

After discussion, the committee decided to review two options -- improving Core or switching to a new system.

It is contemplating keeping Core but breaking math students into three differently paced levels. Basic, average and advanced students would be split up into separate classes and take the courses at different paces. The committee is considering a new Core Mathematics book to see if the program has changed in any way. Under that option, the math department would continue to tweak and fix the program.

The district is concerned about completely changing the curriculum because the original program wasn't working either, district administrator Gregg Lundberg said.

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"There was a reason we changed our math program," he said. "We don't want to go back to something we weren't successful with."

Lundberg said the concerns of all students must be considered when choosing a math curriculum, not just those who will attend college.

"We have to try and do what's best for our kids in Maple," he said.

The curriculum committee also decided to research samples of the McDougal Littell math books. McDougal Littell is a different system of teaching math. The text blends the concepts of both traditional and integrated math.

If the district switches to a new system, it would keep Core math next year and begin the new curriculum from 2008-09. The yearlong wait is because teachers would need time to learn the new method. If the district stays with a refined version of Core, the new program would begin in 2007-08.

The current Core math program includes four years of math. Northwestern students are in block scheduling, which means they can complete one year of the program per semester. They then use additional semesters as upper classmen to complete higher-level math offerings.

The curriculum committee will report its discussion at the regular board meeting Jan. 9. The committee will meet again Jan. 22 to make final recommendations to bring to the board in February.

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