By Nanci G. Hutson

THE NEWS-TIMES [Danbury, CT]

March 4, 2006

NEW MILFORD -- In the fall, the school system opted to try two elementary math programs to find out whether a new method or one teachers have been using would be best for students.

Fifteen teachers in the three elementary and intermediate schools were selected to pilot the new programs, Singapore Math and Saxon Math. The remaining teachers stayed with the school system's decade-old Everyday Math curriculum.

School administrators plan to decide at the end of the school year whether to keep Everyday Math or adopt one of the new programs.

The experiment stemmed from concerns that Everyday Math is confusing for many students, who need a more sequential approach to learning basic math.

The current program exposes students at young ages to algebraic and geometric principles without requiring mastery. Parents, however, have criticized it for taking too many leaps before children have gained a strong foundation in math.

Parents were also frustrated that Everyday Math does not use textbooks and its methods are foreign to how they learned math.

At a Board of Education Committee on Learning meeting this week, administrators provided results of the first parent survey on the pilot programs.

One-hundred-thirty students are using Singapore Math, and 80 percent of their parents responded to the survey. Saxon Math is being used by 245 students, and 69 percent of their parents responded to the survey.

Parents seem to appreciate the pilot programs' more traditional approach, and saw both programs as an improvement over Everyday Math.

Some parents of students using Singapore Math thought it requires too much homework for first- and second-graders, and the materials are sometimes vague. Others found the curriculum sequential and analytical, and the directions carefully worded.

"As a veteran math teacher, I think this program may achieve learning beyond the present Everyday Math program," one parent wrote. "My first-grader has more math thinking in a given evening than my fourth-grader in Everyday Math does."

One criticism of the Singapore curriculum is that it seems too simple for better students. "This program is great for children who need repetition, but if my child has the skills mastered, there is not much room for growth," one parent wrote.

Of parents whose children use Saxon Math, only 1 percent felt the materials were too difficult. Most liked the program better than Everyday Math. "My son can do his homework by himself and he loves it," one parent said. "My child's math comprehension and progress this year far exceeds those in any previous year."

Parents particularly liked having a textbook so they can follow their children's progress and help answer questions. They say the program is straightforward and offers lots of practice to build proficiency.

School board member David Lawson, who pushed for the pilot programs, was pleased so many parents participated in the study. His main concern now is money.

With the school budget expected to be tight, Lawson said the district may not have $176,000 to implement one of the new programs. To stay with the current math program would cost about $45,000.

"It's really a bold initiative," said Lawson, who is optimistic that either of the pilots will pay dividends. "However, budget constraints could stop us once again. And that's my fear."

Assistant superintendent Thomas Mulvihill said a second survey will be distributed so administrators can compare parents' opinions after students have more time with the pilot programs. A final report is expected in April.

Contact Nanci G. Hutson at nhutson@newstimes.com or at (860) 354-2274.

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