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New state standards add up to the axe for math programs

HOOKSETT - The Hooksett School District is close to saying goodbye to the controversial Everyday Math program. But according to administrators, it was the new Common Core state standards, and not the effectiveness of the program itself, that led to plans to drop the ax.

In Manchester, some have charged the program used in the city's elementary schools was responsible for a high percent of high school students flunking math.

"If our standards weren't changing, I don't know that we'd be looking to purchase a new program," said Becky Wing, the Hooksett School District's Director of Mathematics, Assessment and Accountability.

"We haven't had a problem with transitioning kids from elementary to middle school math classes. Our kids are doing OK. We haven't seen any drop in their performance. I think it's done well for us. But we're looking at the new [Common Core] standards and the rigor isn't there in Everyday Math."

The district's middle school math program, Mathscape, will also be replaced for failing to line up with the new standards.

The district is testing three math programs to replace Everyday Math and Mathscape: Math in Focus, a K-8 program, and a combination of the K-6 "Go Math!" and the 6-8 "Big Ideas" programs. The intent is to fully implement the new math curriculum, as well as any other changes necessary to be in compliance with Common Core, by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.

According to estimates presented to the Hooksett School Board earlier this month, the adoption and implementation of the new math program(s) is set to cost $296,693. Hooksett purchased Everyday Math in 2006 for $83,810. Mathscape was purchased sometime earlier. The school district could not immediately provide its cost.

The Common Core Standards, which were formally adopted by the state in 2010, are part of an education initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to standardize curriculum and performance expectations within and across the states.

Common Core's approach to math specifically has been described as "an inch wide, mile deep," an inversion of the critique leveled against prior math curriculums as being "a mile wide and an inch deep." Skills and concepts are organized into focused "domains," with those skills being developed and built upon systematically from grade to grade with the ultimate goal being "mastery."

Everyday Math, developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, has been described as a "spiral learning" program, in which students return to topics periodically from different angles or experience levels. It focuses on conceptual and "discovery" learning, eschewing memorization through repetition for a more abstract understanding of how the material works.

At first glance, the two don't appear to be in conflict. The devil, however, is in the details. Everyday Math introduces and develops, in Wing's words, "a little bit of everything" every year, while Common Core necessitates a more systematic approach. Also, the new "Smarter Balance" tests that will evaluate the district's performance in 2015 will test students on subjects they wouldn't have studied or studied with sufficient depth at their grade level under Everyday Math.

"Our effectiveness as a school district will be measured on the new test (and) how well we perform on a high stakes test is going to be depend on how well we implement the Common Core," said Superintendent Dr. Charles P. Littlefield during a budget discussion with the School Board earlier this month. "It revolutionizes what we teach and how we teach it."

According to the administration, so far, teachers are open to the change.

"As with anything, people are on both sides of the issue," said Wing. "I think, overall, our teachers like the look of the Common Core. I think they think it might give them time to slow down and teach with depth. I don't think anyone is really upset with it."

With the evaluations coming up in 2015, Hooksett isn't an isolated case. Across the state, school administrators are racing to get their districts in line with the new standards.

"At any of the math conferences I attend, everyone is talking about the changes they need to make, and for many of them that does include programs," said Wing. "There's a lot of chatter about it. It's all the buzz."

Only five states have not fully integrated Common Core standards: Alaska, Minnesota, Virginia, Nebraska, and Texas, with some having partially adopted the standards or intending to adopt them. Of the five, only Alaska and Texas are not members of the initiative in any capacity.

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