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District moves forward with K-5 math curriculum

For much of the past year, parents, teachers and administrators with the Mercer Island School District have taken it upon themselves to ruthlessly review the district’s math curriculum, focusing on K-5 math in 2008-2009.

The current curriculum used in the district’s three elementary schools, Investigations, has been in place since 2000. With new state math standards going into place this summer, MISD seized the opportunity to update its program. For the first time, parents were invited to take part in the process of reviewing different curriculum.

“This has been a unique process,” said MISD Superintendent Gary Plano. “Math has been hanging around the district for a decade. This needs to truly be a consensus of support.” He said it was important for the committee of 26 to remember its goal: supporting students’ best interests.

Megan Olson, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakeridge Elementary, said it was good to have parents on the committee to gain understanding about what is important from their perspective.

“There was a lot of learning as to where parents are coming from,” said Olson. “I think the parents learned a lot, too.”

Over the course of the meetings, the committee narrowed its program choices from nine to two, finally settling on Math Expressions for second- through fifth-graders. Kathy Morrison, the district’s associate superintendent of instructional services, said the curriculum is recommended by OSPI and fits with the district’s goals. However, the committee told the School Board during its March 26 meeting that it would like to spend more time looking at the K-1 curriculum because the younger students have different math needs, and they ran out of time to consider other options.

Rich Mellish, the principal at West Mercer Elementary, said the main reasons for wanting to look into the curriculum further is that Math Expressions is a big departure from the current curriculum. For younger students, the program focuses on drills and practicing, but not on building a concrete understanding of the skills needed for those drills.

Plano and other board members stressed that it might not even be financially possible to put a new curriculum into place next school year. It is estimated that a K-5 curriculum adoption could cost up to $200,000.

“Frankly, we might not have the funds to adopt,” said Plano. Despite funding issues, Plano said it was important to find the right curriculum.

“Given the cost, it really has to be done right this time,” said School Board member Adair Dingle, referring to the math adoption process of 10 years ago, which left many in the district unhappy.

No matter what the committee and School Board decide to do, the state standards must be met and decisions will have to be made soon in order to have time to implement either a new curriculum or fill in gaps to meet the standards. Morrison said the new state standards expect that students master math skills and are generally more focused than in the past.

“We’re in a real-time crunch here,” said Mellish.

Aleta Finnila, the committee’s PTA representative, said she hoped the curriculum would not be delayed.

“I’m a little devastated by what I’m hearing here. I see it as a huge step forward, and if we delay it, it’s like we’re giving up on another year of kids. I’m 100 percent behind rolling out implementation next year,” said Finnila.

The committee will try to make a final curriculum recommendation during an April 15 meeting, and from there, the members will share the recommended curriculum with staff and the community before sending it to the Instructional Materials Committee. If the IMC approves Math Expressions, it will be sent to the School Board for review and a vote on adoption, possibly by the end of April.

High school math is next on the curriculum committee’s review list. The district expects this process to go much faster than the elementary review.

For more information on the math curriculum, visit the school’s Web site: www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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