Math curriculum overhaul called for

Board concerned as MSPAP scores fall

Anne Arundel

February 07, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Concerned about falling math test scores, the Anne Arundel County school board urged yesterday an overhaul of the mathematics curriculum to get teachers, students and parents more excited about the subject.

"We've got to find a way to say to the public that math isn't this nasty four-letter word, but that it's extremely important," said board member Michael J. McNelly. "Math put people on the moon, and it's going to cure diseases."

In recent years, Anne Arundel schools have focused on making sure children can read but have not invested as much time and effort in making sure they can add, officials said yesterday.

MSPAP test results released last week showed gains in reading scores for some county pupils, but math scores went down for pupils in all grades tested, third, fifth and eighth. The results continued a decline that began in the late 1990s.

In the fifth grade, 47.8 percent of pupils scored satisfactory, compared with 63.2 percent five years ago.

"I'm very frustrated," said board member Joseph Foster. "As a board, we have worked to increase funding for curriculum development, for staff development, for materials of instruction, yet here we are."

Yesterday, the board received the results of a six-month audit of its math program in kindergarten through eighth grade. The county math program is not in crisis, but some of the curriculum is outdated and teachers need more help in preparing lessons, said the author of the audit, Francis Fennell, a Western Maryland College math education professor.

"The [test] scores in this county are reason, I guess, for some concern," Fennell told the board.

He recommended revising the math curriculum for grades one, two, four, five and six. He said teachers need more training and that more time should be devoted to math in the school day.

That is a touchy issue for Anne Arundel educators, who are reworking the middle school schedule, partly because they want to fit in more time for reading classes. County middle schools, which run on a six-period day, with 55 minutes for math, will move to a four-period or seven-period day in the fall.

In the seven-period day, pupils would get 47 minutes of math every day. In the four-period day, they would get 86 minutes of math on three of every four school days.

"You ought to figure out a way to give them an hour of math" every day, Fennell said. "It's important. It deserves it. ... I'll tell you what you could do: You could cut your language arts time and give it to math."

A few board members laughed. They are unlikely to retreat from a language arts program that began this year in middle schools, but they said they want to increase the county's emphasis on math.

Fennell told them that every high school student should take Algebra 1 and take a math class every year of high school.

Anita Morris, the county's math coordinator, agreed that all students should take Algebra 1 before graduation and that three-quarters of them should go beyond that.

"For too long, meaningful math has been restricted to a certain elite group of students, and other groups of students have gotten another type of math," Morris said. "Our goal is to shut down the curriculum that supports that other math."

She said the county will proceed with revising the curriculum for math in most elementary and middle school grades, and board members pledged to give her the support she will need to do that. Board members appeared to be willing to put money into hiring more math teachers and giving them more training. The cost of such moves has not been determined.

In other action, the board put off a vote on whether to subscribe to a service that allows students and parents to anonymously report threats of suicide or violence to a telephone tip line or through an Internet site.

The board was considering a three-year, $129,000 contract with Report-It.com, which forwards anonymous reports to school administrators. Board members had several questions about the service - including how it could guarantee the privacy of students who use it - and decided to take it up at a later meeting.

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