by SEAN BATURA
After much debate, San Marcos CISD trustees voted last month to adopt a math program intended get students learning algebra in eighth grade. Traditionally, elementary and middle school students are not taught algebra and the Texas Education Agency does not mandate schools teach the subject until high school.
On Jan. 23, trustees voted 5-2 to pay Texas State University $113,451 for implementation of the Mathworks curriculum at select campuses in the next three school years (2012-2013 to 2014-2015). All students at Miller Middle School would participate in program, and a pre-algebra elective course would be made available to fifth graders at Crockett, Hernandez, and Mendez Elementary schools. These elementary schools feed into the middle school.
The Mathworks curriculum, created by Texas State faculty, calls for the completion of Algebra I by the end of eighth grade via a three-text series that also covers state curriculum for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The university’s Mathworks department has held Junior Summer Math Camp on San Marcos CISD campuses using the curriculum for more than 10 years.
San Marcos CISD Superintendent Mark Eads told trustees the district may terminate the program with 30 days’ notice to the university.
During the citizen comment period of the trustees’ Jan. 23 meeting, one parent spoke in opposition to implementing Mathworks for all students at Miller. The parent said the curriculum materials are not intuitive and she and her son have trouble understanding them.
The most vigorous opposition to the program came from San Marcos CISD Trustee Judy Allen. Trustee Kathy Hansen joined Allen in casting the two votes against adopting the Mathworks curriculum at Miller.
“I don’t want all of our students at Miller to be — I don’t want to use the word ‘guinea pigs,’ but trial tests,” Allen said. “I think our children are too important. We don’t have the research to show that this is more successful than another curriculum. So my concerns are — one is cost, but most of all, I would prefer that it were not implemented across-the-board at Miller.”
Allen also expressed concern that students from other middle school campuses might be at an unfair disadvantage when they reach high school in terms of class ranking if Mathworks works well at Miller.
“We have used this with all of the students in a number of school districts with great success both in the TAKS test and in the preparation for algebra, which is significantly higher than the comparison groups of students,” said Max Warshauer, Texas State regents’ professor of mathematics and founder and director of Mathworks. “We did this in Midland, we did this in McAllen. What we saw is you don’t suffer in your (standardized test scores), you don’t suffer in your scores on the end of course exams. But what you gain is, you gain a preparation for doing algebra when young.”
San Marcos CISD Trustee Lupe Costilla bemoaned what she said are the district’s low college readiness figures and math standardized test scores.
According to the Texas Education Agency, 61 percent of San Marcos High School 2010 graduates were ready for college-level math, compared to 54 percent of graduates in 2009.
“This is just the beginning, this is a pilot project,” Costilla said during the Jan. 23 board meeting. “Any research will tell you that you need to two or three years to get you some good numbers as to what’s going to be happening. I hope we get some success numbers because this is something that, I’m tired of doing things the way they have been done, (where) we get the same results year after year. We need to be starting something new…we need to do something. We cannot be stuck in the same box and not be willing to look outside that box. I’m tired of not going forward. I think our kids deserve that. We’re out of the system, they’re still in there. And we need to make sure they’re well-prepared. So, Max, I’m ready to support your program.”
The total cost of implementing the Mathworks curriculum at Miller and the three elementary schools is $336,350; the district’s contribution is one-third of the program’s budget. Texas State’s Mathworks department will seek the remaining two-thirds from other sources. The $336,350 includes the cost of textbooks ($21,250), student workbooks ($25,500), Iowa Algebra Aptitude tests ($8,100), professional development for English language learners teachers and additional resources for students learning English ($7,500), teacher professional development during the summer ($30,000), training stipends for teachers ($16,000), Mathworks school-year support and classroom observations ($60,000), Mathworks coordination and evaluation ($30,000), 10 tutors for four hours per week ($36,000), Junior Summer Math Camp for 100 students ($90,000), and administrative support ($15,000).
“At this point in time, we’re looking at trying something at the middle school with a very committed professor from the university who has had success in other places,” said San Marcos CISD Trustee John Crowley on Jan. 23. “If we’re about academics and we’re about making our kids be successful, then sometimes we need to take a chance and move forward. It’s not that once this is done that it won’t be evaluated and there’s no turning back. I personally have confidence in Dr. Warshauer and I think this is something that’s a positive thing that will benefit our students in math.”
Last school year, 91 percent of third graders who took the English version of the math standardized test passed, and 61 percent of third graders who took the Spanish version passed. Eighty-nine percent of fourth graders who took the English version of the math standardized test passed, and 69 percent of fourth graders who took the Spanish version passed. Eighty-six percent of fifth graders who took the math standardized test passed the test the first time they took it.
Eighty-eight percent of sixth graders passed the math standardized test. Eighty-one percent of seventh graders passed the test. Seventy-seven percent of eighth graders passed the test the first time they took it. Last school year, 67 percent of the district’s ninth graders passed the state standardized math test, 65 percent of tenth graders passed, and 85 percent of eleventh graders passed.
Last school year, students in fifth grade had to pass both the reading and mathematics standardized tests in order to be promoted to sixth grade, and eighth graders had to pass both the reading and mathematics tests in order to be promoted to ninth. Students were given three opportunities to pass each required test. In addition to promotion based on passing the test, some students were promoted based on the recommendation of their grade placement committee.