Integrated math could be out in high schools

School districts had the state's blessing this year to dump integrated math, a controversial method of teaching algebra, geometry and statistics in a single course.

Some reverted back to teaching by a more traditional approach or have a combination of both. But a majority stuck with integrated math, anticipating big changes for the 2012-2013 school year, when Georgia and most of the rest of the country move to a uniform and tougher set of expectations for students known as the Common Core State Standards.

And they've apparently been proved correct.

State School Superintendent John Barge said a majority of the other Common Core states are planning next year to offer discrete math, a more traditional approach that largely focuses on a single discipline, such as algebra or geometry. It only makes sense that Georgia would do the same, he said.

"If we are not going to be in step with the rest of the country, why did we adopt the Common Core?" Barge said.

He stopped short of saying local school systems must switch to the more traditional method of teaching math. But he said school systems that continue with integrated math could find that "risky," once states start testing on the Common Core.

Officials in several school districts -- including Gwinnett and Cobb -- said they're already planning to teach traditional math in next year's change-up to the Common Core, with a curriculum and, eventually, testing that's similar across the states and allows for state-to-state comparisons.

Doug Goodwin, spokesman for Cobb County Schools, said Wednesday a recommendation will go before the local school board to move from a mix of integrated and traditional classes to strictly the traditional next year.

Gwinnett is preparing its teachers for a move in that direction, as well, said Dale Robbins, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

"We want to teach our kids in the same way they will be assessed so they have a good opportunity to demonstrate proficiency at the end of their course experience," Robbins said Wednesday.

Gwinnett, the state's largest school system, stuck this year with integrated math, which was rolled out to the state's ninth-graders in the 2008-2009 school year.

"We thought if we transitioned this past year in one direction, then transitioned with the Common Core, it might confuse our folks in a way that was unnecessary," Robbins said.

Barge's predecessor, state School Superintendent Kathy Cox, advocated the move to integrated math after years of criticism that the state's math curriculum was too weak. Some school systems have said they spent millions on textbooks and training.

But there were persistent complaints that teachers were not adequately trained and students were struggling. Some parents said they were forced to hire private tutors for their children.

By early this year, Barge said integrated math was threatening on-time graduation for thousands of students. He proposed alternative courses to help struggling students get back on track and persuaded the state Board of Education to give school systems the choice of integrated math, the more traditional math or a combination of both.

Tom Ottinger, executive director of the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics, called the move away from integrated math disappointing.

"They are abandoning something midstream that seems to be improving student performance," Ottinger said. "It shows promise, but we haven't had time to get definitive results."

Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter said he was no fan of integrated math and welcomes the change.

"What is really frustrating is that we have spent tremendous resources to train teachers, spent substantial time in pulling additional resources to align with the integrated curriculum, and, subsequently, asked students to perform at high levels while the curriculum has been in flux," he said. "Now, we begin the process over again."

Susan Andrews, school superintendent in Muscogee County, said many students did well with the integrated approach.

"But it was difficult to communicate to parents and out-of-state universities and hard on students moving in and out of state."

Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, said the shift will apply only to students who start ninth grade next fall.

The Common Core mirrors 90 percent of Georgia's standards for math, Cardoza said.

Barge said the Common Core is expected to help school districts by allowing economy of scale in the purchases of textbooks and other materials.

Understanding the math debate

* Integrated math: Math that is taught using a multidisciplinary approach that draws on concepts taught in algebra, geometry and statistics simultaneously to solve problems.

* Discrete math: Students learn one math topic at a time in depth to develop building blocks that help them comprehend the next level.

With changes approved by the state Board of Education last March, students who were struggling with integrated math were given the option of taking four new courses -- GPS Algebra, GPS Geometry, GPS Advanced Algebra and GPS Pre-Calculus. These are taught in the more traditional manner. The board also allowed support classes for Math I, II and III to count for core, rather than elective, credit. The goal was to help students attain the four units of math needed to graduate. At the time, 17 percent of the state’s juniors had no or one math credit, putting them at risk of being unable to graduate.

* Common Core: Georgia and 43 other states adopted the Common Core State Standards in math and English. Other subjects are to be added later.

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