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  • By Lisa Brody

Birmingham Schools responds to math concerns

After Birmingham Public Schools changed its high school mathematics program this school year, with the intent to replace Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra 2 with an integrated math program that is designed to present the concepts in different sequences, parents revolted, many students did poorly, and two parent forums were held, which has led to the ability of students to retake their final exams and students to have tutoring.

The new courses, called Integrated Math 1, 2 and 3, present the same content as the traditional sequence, but in a different order, and with additional concepts not typically found in algebra and geometry. According to the district, integrated math refers simply to the organization of the mathematics students learn. “Instead of having separate courses for algebra and geometry, integrated programs present mathematical topics sequenced in ways that help students see the connections between ideas and the coherence of mathematics as a discipline. Our decision to shift to an integrated mathematics curriculum reflects our commitment to offering our students the highest quality mathematics program we can envision. An integrated mathematics program affords students opportunities to focus on developing conceptual understanding and to see how the disciplines of mathematics are intertwined,” the district website stated.

Birmingham Schools is on a trimester system, so students take math two of three trimester each year. According to their website, this program better prepares students for college courses like precalculus and statistics.

Freshman were the first to try the integrated math program in the 2017-2018 school year, to the consternation of many parents that students were having difficulty with the new curriculum, with many failing final exams. Two parent forums were held, with superintendent Daniel Nerad sending out an email to parents stating, “Recently, we held two forums to listen to concerns and receive input on our Integrated Math curriculum. Following these forums, we presented details about additional support we would provide to students. When these additional supports were communicated, we indicated we would need time to engage with our middle and high school teachers to identify modifications in classroom instruction. The specific communication included the following statements: We will also provide additional direct instruction as students require, and provide more opportunities to develop mastery over time. We are in the process of examining options for this additional direct instruction and when this work is completed we will provide an additional communication. Also, as Teaching and Learning staff works with our teachers, supported by our department heads, additional strategies will be implemented. In addition, grading practices during this implementation will be examined.”

Nerad later came back with updated modifications for students, including final exam retakes for those students who had already taken them. Students also have the option of participating in a district-paid summer school for integrated math 1A, 1B, and/or 1C recovery course, with the summer school grade replacing the original grade.

“Retakes will take place in each high school, both before and after school, between April 16 and May 18. Retakes during the day are available upon request. Actual dates and times will be determined by each building. Schedules will be announced after spring break,” Nerad wrote parents.

To help students currently taking the math courses, Nerad said that teacher modification has occurred, and there will be 50 to 70 percent more teacher-led direct instruction every week, including teacher-directed whole class instruction on key lesson points. “These will additionally occur when the teacher determines the class as a whole requires explicit directions and support,” he said.

Group grades will be removed from trimester grades, and students will have greater opportunities to work individually, in pairs, or in groups, depending on the activity. There will also be opportunities for students in all integrated math classes to relearn concepts.

To further assist students, district-paid tutoring will be available on a drop-in basis beginning on Monday, April 9, at both Groves and Seaholm, Mondays through Thursdays, from 3-6 p.m.

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