How can a plan to make the math curriculum more rigorous actually accomplish just the opposite? That is the question being asked by parents of bright elementary school students in Wake County, North Carolina. Because the new math curriculum is aimed at standardizing how the subject is taught across the state, kids who’ve been previously judged ready to begin middle-school math while still in elementary school will lose that option starting next year. Karissa Webb, one of the students effected by the change had her teachers develop and submit an alternate plan that would have allowed Webb to continue her math studies at a nearby middle school. The plan was rejected by the Central Office without explanation.
The curriculum overhaul came about as a result of North Carolina being one of 45 states to adopt the Common Core Standards in several subjects including mathematics and English language arts. Those in charge of drafting the new conforming math curriculum say that the new material covered will be rigorous enough to make it unnecessary for students to attempt math classes above their grade levels. They also say that the curriculum is drawn up with enough flexibility to allow teachers to offer some advanced topics for their more advanced students, without having to actually bump them up a grade level.
The one member of Triangle High 5 not following the group’s recommendation for elementary school students is Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which kept its LEAP Program. Covering grades 4-8, LEAP students take courses two to three years ahead of their normal grade.
Emily Martine, president of the Chapel Hill chapter of Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education, said parents were relieved by Chapel HIll’s decision.
“They recognized that all students need to be challenged,” she said.
But Wake school officials say letting elementary school students take middle school math could result in their skipping material that will now be taught in elementary school.
“We want to make sure students aren’t skipping content,” said Ruth Steidinger, Wake’s senior director for middle school programs.
The districts are also working on an accelerated program for their more gifted students, but it will only be offered to middle-schoolers and won’t be accessible for students in 5th grade or below. The Central Office’s concern about missing material is the reason cited for the closure of the program that allowed 800 Wake students to take the fifth and sixth grade math simultaneously The program functioned alongside another one that sent elementary school kids to a nearby middle school for math instruction. This program is also shuttered.
The change comes as a disappointment to students like Webb, who have been taking advanced math since beginning school. The fact that the program to allow her to study middle-school-level mathematics next year has been scrapped, means that Karissa will be effectively repeating fifth grade math instruction instead of advancing to new material.
“We’re not going to let her repeat a class just because it’s more convenient for them,” Carman Webb said.
If Karissa’s grievance is rejected by staff, the family can appeal to the school board. They’ve got at least one ally in school board member Jim Martin, who says the district shouldn’t be following a “one size fits all” plan for educating students.
“We need to keep challenging our top students,” Martin said.