A school district committee is recommending a new mathematics curriculum for Palo Alto Unified's three middle schools to help bring their materials up to speed with statewide mathematical standards adopted several years ago.
The Middle School Math Textbook Selection Advisory Committee, formed last spring, is recommending the district adopt Big Ideas Math, which teachers piloted and widely supported over other textbooks they tested out. The school board will discuss the group's proposal on Tuesday night.
Despite the fact that the new statewide Common Core State Standards were approved in 2010 and the school district formally adopted Common Core math content for the secondary schools in 2014, middle-school math teachers in Palo Alto have been leaning on supplemental resources and their own materials "to align their curriculum and instruction to the standards in the absence of an adopted textbook," a staff report states.
In the 2015-16 school year, math teachers at all three middle schools explored different state-approved textbooks and materials. The committee convened last April with 21 teacher, staff, administrator, parent and student members.
Feedback from both efforts led to the pilot of two different curriculum that teachers formally piloted this school year: Big Ideas Math and Math in Focus.
More than 90 percent of the teachers who piloted the materials said Big Ideas Math met their needs, while only 45 percent said the same for Math in Focus, according to a survey. Half of teachers rated Big Ideas Math's application of the Common Core standards and topics for each grade level as "very good" and 42 percent as "good," while about 37 percent of teachers rated Math in Focus' as "fair" and the same amount as "very good."
Teachers also rated Big Ideas better on providing access and support to students and parents when teachers are not present and on providing support for teachers.
Big Ideas Math uses the Common Core standards as its "foundation," the curriculum website reads. It offers three pathways for its middle school materials: regular, compacted and advanced.
"Students gain a deeper understanding of math concepts by narrowing their focus to fewer topics at each grade level," the website reads. "Students master content through inductive reasoning opportunities, engaging activities that provide deeper understanding, concise, stepped-out examples, rich, thought-provoking exercises, and a continual building on what has been previously taught."
Math in Focus, a Singapore Math textbook, offers "problem solving as the center of math learning and concepts taught with a concrete–pictorial–abstract learning progression through real-world, hands-on experiences," its website states. It also "supports the goals of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics."
Both textbooks are on the state Board of Education's approved list of programs.
Both, however, receive poor ratings from EdReports, an independent nonprofit that provides evidence-based reviews of instructional materials. For both textbooks, their sixth and seventh grade materials do not meet standards and eighth grade materials only partially meet standards, according to EdReports. Math in Focus meets expectations, however, for focus and coherence in eighth grade.
EdReports' evaluations became central to the school board's decision last year on new elementary math curriculum to pilot. (The board looked to the third-party validation since none of the recommended textbooks were on the California Department of Education's approved list.)
The estimated cost of the materials is $600,000; one-time discretionary funds from the state could be used to purchase them, according to staff.
If adopted, the materials would be in classrooms starting with the new school year this fall. Staff hopes the board will vote on the recommendation at their next meeting on March 28.
In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on a recommendation to rename two middle schools and vote on a proposed districtwide equity plan, among other items. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.