Math curriculum questions need answering

Letter to the Editor
The Needham Times, TownOnline.Com
March 2, 2006

In January, I twice addressed the School Committee with questions and concerns about Needham's math curriculum. I asked about the costs of the controversial Investigations math program. I raised concerns about the lack of a substantive review by the curriculum leadership. I pointed out the disastrous results, as demonstrated by Newman's fourth-grade MCAS scores.

I was astounded by the shallow and dismissive response I received. Donald Gratz dismissed the MCAS scores as "unreliable." He then joined other committee members in approving money to subscribe to the Investigations vendor's proprietary math assessment tool. And they still haven't told us what we've spent on Investigations and what we're spending to implement the program district-wide and purchase the vendor's program fixes (though some current price list information provided to me puts the costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars).

With this contested election, we are finally seeing an opportunity for substantive attention to this and other issues. Holly Horrigan has done a lot of research into the Investigations problem and made considerable information available on her Web site ( She has also spoken with numerous School Committee members, the curriculum leadership, selectmen and others regarding her findings. As a result, the math problem is now on the School Committee agenda for Tuesday, March 7.

But what matters more than "election-month" meetings and speeches is real dialogue that leads to real action. The math problem was reviewed last year, but the MCAS results were ignored. The result was a stronger commitment to Investigations and a push to implement it consistently across all schools. I'll be watching Tuesday's meeting, still looking for answers to my questions:

How much have we spent on Investigations to date, and how much are we spending going forward on the vendor's program fixes? What assessment has been done to measure the results? Is administration going to address the plummeting scores? What are we doing to provide remedial math for the increasing number of students scoring "Needs Improvement" in math? What is being done to offer a choice to parents and students who value the proven math techniques and don't want to participate in the failing Investigations experiment?

I encourage people to attend or watch Tuesday's meeting. To learn more about the topic, you can visit the "Needham's Math Crisis" section of the Web site. Let's hope for a productive discussion.

Dave Horrigan
Sutton Road

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