Response to "This math is leaving parents at a loss" (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 2002)

By Susan Sarhady

Re: Your June 13, 2002 article This math is leaving parents at a loss

Mr. Sanders,

I am extremely dissapointed in the lack of fact-checking that seemingly went into this article. I AM a parent from Plano, Texas and I know personally that Connected Math has NOT improved achievement in mathematics in our school district so to imply that "scholarly research" shows that it is amazing or fantastic is not only inaccurate but a HUGE disservice to your readers.

First and foremost the Plano parents have not lost their lawsuit. It is still being litigated. I am not one of the actual litigants but am aware of the progress of the case through some of the parents that are.

Secondly, Connected Math was not held in "high esteem" in most Texas school districts. In fact, only about 9 out of 1064 school districts adopted Connected Math. Two of those did a dual adoption -- in other words they are using two programs because they're not convinced Connected Math would work.

Your article stated, "In addition, she said, high school students who took Connected Math are more likely to take more math classes than are required to graduate." This certainly isn't the case in our school district where the percentage of students participating in Algebra in 8th grade continues to decline -- presumably because students aren't prepared for Algebra after 2 years of Connected Math. I'd like to see the actual research that she is referring to. In Andover, Michigan students that took 3 years of Connected Math and 4 years of high school math often placed into College Algebra. They should have placed into Pre-Calculus or Calculus but weren't prepared.

As to the implication that achievement is going through the roof in the districts that use Connected Math, that is not the case here in Plano. The Grade 7 Average Student percentile in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills Math Problem Solving sub-test has steadily declined since 1998. The Math Total subtest average student percentile has also declined -- by 9 percentage points to be exact.

The most glaring misstatement in your article was "Three mathematicians from Michigan State University and one each from the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.." In fact, the majority of the authors are math educators, NOT mathematicians. James Fey has a PH.d. in Mathematics education, not math. Elizabeth Phillips is a Senior Academic Specialist in Math Education, not a mathematician. Most mathematicians, in fact, condemn this program as being lite on math and a disservice to the students that are forced to participate in it!

Also, you wrote, "Students unhappy with Connected Math can opt out when they reach high school, said Nancy Sherlock-Robson, North Penn secondary math and science learning coordinator." That is extremely misleading because Connected Math is a 6-8 Middle School Program, NOT a high school program. Students can opt out by virtue of the fact that the program is over by 9th grade (as well as their ability to excel in higher mathematics.) There is some initial data that came out of the Texas Math Initiative that shows discovery learning is MOST detrimental to those students who are working below grade level in mathematics-- exactly the type of students educators say they are trying to target with Connected Math.

I would also like to challenge the statement, "In three years of using Connected Math, Ridley Middle School eighth graders have boosted their scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test by nearly 100 points to an average score of 1,360, said Charlotte Roede, the district's director of instruction." Since the 8th grade average scale score for math at Ridley MS was 1330 for 2000-01 (see here), I'm assuming Ms. Roede is using has access to newer 2001-2002 information. Even so, the lowest average scale score for math was in 1997-98 at 1290 -- that after a 30 point drop from 1320 in 1996-97. No matter what year you look at there hasn't been a 100 point increase. In fact, the score only increased 10 points from 1996-97 (1320) to 2000-01 (1330). If the score is now 1360, it is still only a 40 point increase from a high of 1320 in 1996-97. And how can we say that increase wasn't due to the growth in the use of tutoring services? One tutoring service locally had to triple their staff in mathematics because of a surge in concern among parents that Connected Math wasn't doing the job!

In the many years I have communicated and worked with our local education reporters here in the Dallas area the message I most try to get across is to VERIFY everything. I cannot overemphasize the necessity and value of independent research. This would apply to school board members as well. Educators are often more intent on "selling" their program than looking at it impartially. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have and hope to see a follow-up article correcting some of the inaccuracies in this one.

Susan Sarhady
Pres., Plano Parental Rights Council
PO Box 250416, Plano TX 75025-0416

We are a 501(c)3 non-profit Texas corporation dedicated to improving parental participation in their child's education.

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