Over four years, state tests show Pottsgrove elementary students have a good understanding of math, but it drops significantly by the time they enter high school
Pottsgrove’s goal in adding a third tier of courses is to boost math understanding and test scores in both the middle and high schools
POTTSTOWN PA – The addition next year of a third tier of mathematics courses for sixth- through eighth-grade learners at Pottsgrove Middle School may help solve nagging problems with student achievement on state standardized tests, could energize those proficient in math to tackle more challenging material, and would give most students more options to succeed, Pottsgrove School District administrators said Tuesday (April 24, 2012).
The school board was generally enthusiastic about what it heard from Director of Education and Assessment Todd Davies and Assistant Superintendent Shellie Feola. But members were wary, too, and pressed for answers to two questions: “how do we know this will work?,” and “how soon can we see results?”
Research indicates broadening the math curriculum by providing mid-level courses – in addition to current basic and advanced tiers for subjects like algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus – will enhance student comprehension at an individualized pace, Davies noted. As for results, he and Feola were candid: 2012-2013 will be a “messy” year, as the transition occurs, but after that test scores should start improving, they said.
Administrators at the middle school, North Hanover Street, Pottstown, introduced the new courses to groups of parents last week. A similar session is on the agenda tonight (Tuesday, May 1) at 7 p.m. during the Parent-Teachers Organization meeting in the middle school cafeteria, and is open to the public.
Davies, Feola and math teachers have been working on the curriculum changes for several months. They are prompted, in part, by the progressively poor showing of Pottsgrove students on Pennsylvania’s System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams during the past four years. Those results indicate district learners are falling farther behind in math comprehension and skills as they move from elementary to middle to high school grades.
Complicating Pottsgrove’s problems is the fact that middle and high school math is due to become even tougher. A new set of educational standards known as the “common core initiative,” which all students are expected to master, is being readied for nationwide roll-out. Pennsylvania’s Keystone Exams, the state’s final test of whether high school seniors are prepared to graduate, will begin in 2015.
That’s why it’s important, Davies explained, “to look at our math problems on a systemic level,” rather than by individual schools. Solving problems among middle school learners should, he reasoned, solve corresponding problems at the high school as well, over time.
“I think this is great,” said Board of School Directors President Michael Neiffer, one of several to comment. “I think we should be challenging all students in math at an earlier age.” During the meeting, at Superintendent Dr. Bradley Landis’ request, directors approved three middle school math course revisions related to the proposal.
With only five months remaining until the new academic year starts, Davies acknowledged the administration has a lot of work ahead to ensure the revised courses perform as expected. Student schedules will be adjusted to match them with the appropriate tier for their current skills. Teachers are being given new classroom tools, and are learning new teaching skills themselves. An outside consultant is providing advice for the transition.
In the end, Davies predicted, students and parents are likely to be happier with their accomplishments, and the district hopefully will have addressed a substantial portion of its PSSA score declines. Over the next two years, however, while results of the effort are awaited, “teachers are going to have their feet in two boats,” Davies said, in bringing current students up to speed in math and then meeting and beating the new standards.
Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ April 24 meeting):
Chart from the Pottsgrove School District; photo from Google Images