With teacher and student surveys already gathered, West Windsor-Plainsboro school administrators are turning to parents for the last phase of community input as the district-wide review of its math program moves forward.
The math program review began in August, 2006, when a committee was formed to evaluate and improve the math curriculum. The committee is chaired by High School South Principal Charles Rudnick and includes the district’s three math supervisors: Chris Herte, the district’s high school-level mathematics supervisor, along with middle school supervisor Barbara Braverman, and elementary school supervisor David Argese. Teachers on the committee include Ardi Allen, Vanessa Clax, Janet Jackson, Robert Krech, Jill Marsch, Rochelle Newman, and Lee Werner. Richard Kaye is the school board member.
According to Herte, committee members came up with the idea to issue surveys to “get feedback from a very large number of people in a very expedient way,” Herte said. “So what we did was over the next several months, the committee met regularly and really worked on creating what we believe are very strong survey questions.”
Surveys went out to faculty last spring, with nearly all of those teachers who instruct math responding. Students in grades three through twelve were also issued surveys, with most of them taking the surveys during their computer classes. Herte said over 6,"700 students, or nearly all, completed the surveys.
“We’re really excited about the input that we’re getting back from our students,” he said.
Now it’s time for parents. The survey is currently up on the front page of the district’s website — www.ww-p.org — and should take parents on average only about five minutes to complete, Herte said. School officials, he said, want to gain an idea of “what they view and see as their child’s experience in our math program.”
Some of the questions ask parents to assess statements like, “My child should be challenged more in math this year,” by picking answers on a scale from strongly agreeing to strongly disagreeing. Examples of other questions include, “The amount my homework my child gets in math is appropriate,” and “All students should complete an algebra course by the end of eight grade.”
Herte said parents can also take the survey once for each child they have in the district. For example, if one parent has two children in the district, one at the high school level and one at the elementary school level, he or she can answer the survey differently both times reflecting how he or she feels about the different programs. Herte said the survey will remain open for parents to respond until Friday, January 18, and includes space for parents to leave any additional comments at the end of the survey.
To help with the math review process, the district enlisted Math Foundations LLC, which will begin analyzing the surveys in January to “get a really broad picture of the district,” Herte said. Then “these math experts are going to be coming in and using focus groups and classroom observations” to take a deeper look at the math program in action, he said.
The board’s curriculum committee made the recommendation to hire Math Foundations for $26,"180 at the October 9 board meeting.
Like the surveys, there will be a focus group for parents, one for administration and teachers, and one for students, conducted by the consultants. After analyzing the date from those focus groups and having discussions with the committee, a report will be drafted.
“It will be reviewed and eventually, there will be a presentation to the board of education and board curriculum committee on the findings of the math program and recommendations going forward so we can improve our program and help all of our students to achieve” even higher results, he said.
One of the areas administrators are hoping to gain insight on is the Algebra I class for eighth graders, and how the schools can maximize opportunities for eighth graders in moving on to the high school level. “We’ve looked at how other high achieving school districts teach Algebra I to eighth graders,” and what the district can do in moving forward, he said. “Algebra I is the entry way into all your high school math courses. As long as they’re developmentally ready, the sooner students can take that, it opens up opportunities for the students by their senior year.”
He points to the high percentage of students who take calculus or courses beyond that as seniors. “It doesn’t mean that every student is going to want to take a course in calculus or beyond, but by offering Algebra I to all eighth graders, that does provide further opportunities for students during their high school years.”
Any recommendations regarding the Algebra I course will be accompanied by recommendations regarding how district officials should prepare to make any changes in the curriculum.
The issue of offering more advanced classes at the middle school level was a hot issue in the 2006 school board elections, with candidate Brett Boal questioning whether students who would qualify for Advanced Placement classes in most communities missing out on the opportunity in West Windsor-Plainsboro due to the high number of high-achieving students in the school district.
His opponent, Stan Katz, who won re-election over Boal, essentially agreed, especially when talking about the mathematics curriculum. The two argued that because approximately half of the WW-P’s seventh graders are placed in pre-algebra, and half are placed in Math 7, they would miss out on opportunities later on.
They both said the implications of the early placement resonate throughout the rest of the student’s years in school, pigeonholing them into tracks that are tough to break free from later on. Katz argued that some math requirements affect whether students can take the most advanced science classes later on, or calculus in senior year. At the time, administrative staff, however, pointed to statistics that showed the district was actually ahead of the curve, including that 40.4 percent of WW-P students took calculus, well over the 23 percent national average.
Math Foundations, Herte said, is looking to complete its work by late spring. As far as when any recommendations will be implemented, he said, “until we finish the process, I can’t say what the recommendations would be,” he said.