Notes From the Board Table: Sixth-grade math is re-aligned
Let me tell you the story about “Accelerated Math 6,” which highlights several good things happening in the Wilton Public Schools. The accelerated math course was presented to the Board of Education at our meeting last week by Julie Wojciechowski, who is our K-8 curriculum leader for math and science.
In her position, which was created last year, Mrs. Wojciechowski is able to take a macro view of math instruction from Miller-Driscoll through Middlebrook, which allows her to assess (a) what is working in current math instruction; (b) areas that need improvement and (c) tools available to help us improve math instruction. Mrs. Wojciechowski assumed her new position at a time when the Wilton schools were transitioning to a new math program. Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, we replaced Chicago Math with the Common Core-aligned Math in Focus, also known as Singapore Math.
If you have students in our schools, you probably know the transition to Singapore Math has been somewhat dramatic. Singapore Math calls for a more traditional way of thinking about math where concept mastery is expected before moving on to new material. Under the Chicago Math program students were introduced to concepts but not expected to master them until some point in the future. The initial impact of our transition was evident in part in our district’s less-than-stellar SBAC and MAP scores that were reported last fall. We have also seen an uptick in the number of students in need of extra help.
We responded to that need last year with the addition of a math interventionist at Middlebrook who has been effective at offering assistance to students. We also added a math coach, who works one-on-one with teachers to help them more effectively deliver curriculum concepts.
Through this extra scrutiny, it became clear that our current sixth-grade math program was not addressing the needs of our students. Mrs. Wojciechowski, drawing on her prior experience as a fifth-grade classroom teacher, worked closely with our Middlebrook math teachers to drill down and identify areas in which our sixth-grade students could be better served through a restructuring of our course offerings. After an extensive period of discussion, evaluation and review of options, a recommendation was made to provide students entering sixth grade with a third option for math placement.
Currently students are placed in either Math 6 or Advanced Math 6.
- Math 6 (now Math in Focus Course 1) provides students with grade-level Common Core-aligned skills.
- Advanced Math 6 (now Math in Focus Course 2) is a pre-algebra course for advanced students and doesn’t include any instruction on sixth-grade Math in Focus Course 1 skills.
As a result of the transition, we have been seeing an increase in the number of students struggling in Advanced Math 6 because they were never introduced to many of the necessary skills learned in Math in Focus, Course 1 (they were effectively jumping an entire grade in math without much support). This is fine for some of our more gifted learners but for the majority it left them disliking math when we want them to love it.
By introducing the Accelerated Math 6 course, we will be able to better serve our advanced learners, who need a rigorous math curriculum, without expecting them to skip an entire grade of math instruction in the process.
Here is an overview of the Grades 5-9 path students will follow, with three strong options in place for sixth-grade math:
Students will be recommended by their fifth-grade teacher for the appropriate course. Mrs. Wojciechowski will train fifth-grade teachers so they are fully aware of the new course options. Evaluations will be based in large part on a student’s mathematical performance, including classroom aptitude, unit test scores (i.e. multiplication and division, fraction addition and subtraction, algebra and ratios) and placement test scores.
In other words, student placement will be based on math skills performance and not subjective recommendations. We expect that roughly 10% of students will be enrolled in Advanced Math, with 45% in Accelerated Math and 45% in Math 6.
We also believe the Math 6 restructuring will have three key benefits:
- Ensure every student is in a highly rigorous course that challenges their capabilities;
- Ensure every Middlebrook student has the foundational skills from which to build upon in subsequent years; and
- Ensure every student is on track for success both at Middlebrook and in Wilton High School.
So the story of Accelerated Math 6 has many interesting lessons.
For one thing, it demonstrates the concern our faculty has for our students, in working diligently to address what became an obvious flaw in our Math 6 program.
It affirms that every Wilton student will be individually assessed, with care taken to ensure that the right tools are in place to ensure a highly rigorous and challenging academic experience.
And finally, it reaffirms our district’s decision to invest in our curriculum leaders and coaches. Without Mrs. Wojiechowski’s singular focus on our district math curriculum, it is likely that the problems with sixth-grade math would not have been addressed with nearly the same speed and depth.
The board will give this course proposal final consideration at its March 10 meeting. With the new course in place, I believe this story will have a happy ending for our sixth graders, and should make all of us feel good about the care and good work taking place within the Wilton Public Schools.