Math madness

Nearly every state in the U.S. offers traditional mathematics courses or a choice between traditional and integrated math. Only four states, Georgia being one of them, continue to promote the integrated model.

Some states that originally supported integrated math have stepped back and begun offering a choice to school districts, and their state assessments match that approach. But though the Georgia Department of Education now allows individual districts to choose their approach, its state assessments still unfairly favor the integrated pathway.

As Superintendent Robert Avossa says, “When the state Department of Education gave school districts the autonomy to choose how they would teach mathematics — by integrated or traditional approach — it meant that two different testing pathways would be needed to appropriately assess students. Students being taught using a traditional approach, such as those in Fulton, should not be assessed using an integrated approach End of Course Test.”

“Yet, that is exactly what the Georgia DOE intends to do,” Avossa says. “Legislation was introduced during the 2014 legislative session that would allow a dual pathway for testing, but it did not pass. Now, there is no option to give students being taught by a traditional approach an appropriate test, and this puts our students at an unfair disadvantage, especially since 20 percent of a student’s final grade comes from that End of Course Test.”

This hot topic has not cooled off even though the school year is out. Two weeks ago, the Georgia School Boards Association met for its annual Summer Conference & Delegate Assembly, and members of the Fulton board were among them. Board members representing most of Georgia’s 180 school districts discussed serious issues impacting our children’s education and developed a list of legislative priorities to take to the state and national level.

Not surprisingly, math was one of the most discussed topics. It was clear school boards across Georgia are unified in their belief school districts should have local control of their delivery of the curriculum, and state assessments should match that delivery.

To that end, the School Boards Association unanimously adopted a legislative position proposed by the Fulton County school board: “GSBA encourages the Georgia Department of Education to develop assessments aligned to standards, as opposed to a grade-level or state defined course, and provide systems the flexibility to administer those assessments if students are ready prior to the spring of each school year.”

Georgia’s End of Course Tests now assess on the integrated model, and it appears that development of the state’s new Georgia Milestones Assessment System will continue to favor the integrated approach. By choosing a single pathway to align its assessments, the Department of Education has demonstrated an error in judgment that its school systems do not want options or the flexibility to make educational decisions that best meet their community’s needs.

While some Georgia districts have accepted and adopted integrated math, a one-size-fits-all approach is not conducive to all, and especially not in Fulton County schools where instructional flexibility and innovation is our hallmark. As part of our charter system model, we are pushing aside the status quo and advocating for more curricular flexibility.

As the voice of many, we continue to petition the Georgia DOE and its Board of Education to give options and not force one approach over another. As Superintendent Avossa notes, the issue is about local control, not federal politics or a debate about Common Core.

“While the Georgia Department of Education did the right thing in 2011 to allow school districts to choose their mathematics approach, it must stand by this by allowing assessments to match,” Avossa says.

We agree and urge a return in Georgia to a dual pathway approach to testing before the 2014-2015 school year begins. The DOE holds a powerful grip over school systems’ ability to teach children, properly measure their mastery of the curriculum, and provide learning opportunities that are appropriate for their needs.

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Linda Schultz is president of the Fulton County Board of Education, and Linda McCain is vice president.

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