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Everyday Math gets high grades

Though it’s facing the guillotine in some parts of the state, and is on trial in others, Everyday Math appears to be having success in Bedford’s elementary schools.

“From my perspective, in terms of the research base of the program and its effectiveness, the performance of students in our district and our willingness to entertain things that work and get rid of things that don’t work, it’s not particularly controversial,” said Bedford Assistant Superintendent Chip McGee.

As the country’s leading K-6 math curriculum, Everyday Math is taught in most states. It was developed at the University of Chicago and released in 1998. According to the product’s website, it’s based on the belief that students best develop an understanding of mathematics from their own experience, encouraging them to learn multiple ways of solving problems, and stressing “number-fact reflexes” and differentiated instruction.

Though it’s not the only factor, McGee points suggested that the increasing success of 11th-grade math students at Bedford High proves Everyday Math’s usefulness.

“There’s pretty good evidence that a well-implemented use of this program causes more students to do well in mathematics,” he said.

McGee said more than half of kids are getting the algebra, where five years ago only a quarter of kids completed it.

“Everyday Math may or may not get the credit, but, in the last five years, one of my measures of success is we’ve increased the number of kids who successfully completed algebra by the end of eighth grade.”

It also brings algebra into the picture as early as first grade. “If you build (algebra) it into the program, they jump on it and kids practice that stuff,” he said.

McGee said students benefit from a consistent math framework across grade levels; something Everyday Math provides. As for the aspects that don’t seem to be working, like lattice multiplication, which has been around for centuries, those simply aren’t used.

In spite of reports of success in districts across the country– like in New York City, where 82 percent of students grades 3 to 8 met math standards – the program has come under fire from some quarters. In 2007, it was dropped by the Texas School Board, and rejected in California until 2007, when a third edition was released by McGraw-Hill Education.

Hooksett will cut the program next year in order to align with Common Core standards, while Nashua is reviewing Everyday Math for the same reason. In Goffstown the program is viewed as a success by the school board and the administration, according to School Board Chairman Philip Pancoast.

Dr. Althea Sheaff, assistant superintendent in Nashua, said some parents have voiced complaints about Everyday Math because they’re not able to help their kids because the material is different from what they studied. These critics often call for a return to traditional mathematics, while others call for a more balanced approach.

Sheaff said it’s too early to say whether Nashua will keep Everyday Math, which has been in place since 2002. But a math steering committee is taking on the question as one of its top priorities.

“I would not say that significant gains have been made with Everyday Math as we’ve seen with our reading,” Sheaff said, referring to a largely successful three-year push to boost reading proficiency among students.

A similar initiative for mathematics is underway in Nashua, one that is likely to take even longer, with an emphasis on professional development and the usage of the latest in math pedagogy.

The district is surveying parents and teachers for their opinions on math instruction. They want to know how faithful teachers are to the Everyday Math curriculum.

As new math textbooks for Nashua’s elementary students are due in 2014, a conclusion on the program’s viability will come by the end of 2013.

“I think people feel the need to do a balanced approach, which to me is wise,” Sheaff said. “You need to do process, you need to do procedures, and students need to be fluent with math facts. They need to know how to problem-solve. Any math program that we have should have all of those components.”

Whether Everyday Math maintains that balance – and whether it does so in alignment with Common Core standards that began this year – will determine the fate of the program.

Sheaff said NECAP results are problematic because the proficiency level changes from year to year. But if the assessment is any measure of Everyday Math’s success, it has worked better in Bedford than in Nashua.

Bedford’s NECAP math scores for seventh-graders rose from 86 percent proficiency in 2005 to 91 percent in 2011, outshining the state average, which rose from 56 percent to 68 percent proficiency over the same period.

Nashua’s levels saw a decline, with 61 percent of seventh-graders scoring proficient in 2005 to 57 percent in 2011.

But 11th graders are doing far worse. Only 29 percent were proficient in Nashua in 2011, compared with the statewide 36 percent. At Bedford High School, 55 percent of 11th-graders were proficient.

Bedford education advocate Ann Marie Banfield doesn’t buy into NECAP scores either. She said they’re self-serving for administrators, and that success in NECAP will only show alignment with “fuzzy math” curricula like Everyday Math.

“Instead of the local communities determining what should be used in their schools, these schools are now accountable to bureaucracies,” said Banfield.

Banfield is also highly critical of the International Baccalaureate program, which she sees as a “values-based program.” What Everyday Math and IB have in common, she said, is that they both utilized an inquiry-based model, which Banfield believes has no place in math.

“It’s kind of like telling a medical students. go inquire your way through (school) and figure out how to become a doctor,” she said.

“I’m 49 years old. When I was in school if I’d have pulled out a calculator I would’ve been accused of cheating. Now it’s acceptable.”

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