CLEARFIELD – Two parents confronted the Clearfield Area School District Board of Directors about its implementation of the new Chicago Mathematics curriculum at the Clearfield Area High School at Monday night’s combined committee and board meeting.
Parent Charles Lombardo Jr. reported that on Nov. 9, he received a phone call about giving his daughter the option to leave her Algebra II course and go back to Algebra I. He said his daughter studied Algebra I in the eighth grade last year and maintained a 95 percent the entire year.
“I left this up to her, and she said ‘no,’” Lombardo said. “I’m not going to hold anything against the teachers, because you guys have to let them teach.
“ . . . I’m paying $3,500 in school taxes, and I’m not the only angry parent. There are a lot of angry parents out there. You’re not letting the teachers teach, and the kids are lost. When are you going to realize these kids are lost?”
According to Lombardo, mathematics teachers curved the students’ grades for the first, 9-week marking period. His daughter subsequently received a 70 percent over a 52 percent.
Lombardo said of the other subject areas, her lowest grade was a 96 percent. He told the board that he’d continually attend meetings and recruit other parents to come with him.
“Would you rather allow the teachers to teach the math, or see the students continue to fail?” he asked. Board member Mary Anne Jackson indicated that it was her understanding that Lombardo had observed the new Chicago Math. She asked for Lombardo’s opinion.
Lombardo said that Vice Principal Tim Janocko had taken him into classrooms, where the Chicago Math had been implemented. He said the teachers weren’t teaching, the students were in groups of four and they weren’t getting it.
“I was not impressed,” he said. “It was introduced beginning in the ninth grade. Maybe, if it’d been introduced in elementary, and they’d come up through with it. My daughter is trying so hard and has a tutor. She’s not getting it.
“I don’t know what to do. She has higher expectations, and her PSSA scores are going to be shot. Her GPA is lower because of her math grade. I’m upset. A lot of other people are upset. You need to take it into consideration and think it through.”
Parent Betsy Jury said she currently has a daughter who is struggling with geometry in the new Chicago Math curriculum. She said her daughter has been coming home in tears and thinking she’s “stupid.”
According to Jury, she’s contacted the guidance counselor, which went “nowhere.” She then went to her daughter’s teacher, who she said blamed it on her daughter.
However, she said her daughter’s friends have complained about their difficulties with the new math. She said her daughter has requested help and isn’t getting it.
“She’s told to go back to her group, but the kids in her group don’t understand. I guess if the kids in your group don’t understand, you’re out of luck,” Jury said.
“There are tons of kids in 9th period right now. They don’t have enough (staff) to help them all. It’s going to bring the students’ grades down so bad. How far is this going to go? The kids’ self-esteems are down; they think they’re stupid.”
Jury asked if students fail for the entire year, who will cover expenses for them retaking these courses? She said parents aren’t going to want to pay the $200 to $300.
“It’s not just ‘a kid.’ You keep blaming one kid. I think the parents need to storm the district until you deal with it.”
Otto said as early as Tuesday, the district would be examining how the new Chicago Math curriculum was implemented and the issues that have arisen from that. He said they share in the frustration and encourage any parent and or child to meet with the school principal.
According to Otto, the district isn’t trying to sweep any of this under the rug. Instead, he pleaded to the parents that they’re only trying to get better and overcome the gaps that exist in curriculum from the eighth grade upward.
“We didn’t foresee this frustration and don’t want our children to feel defeated,” he said.
Assistant Principal Heather Prestash said they had collected data from students in grades nine through eleven about the new Chicago Math. She said for most part, the students enjoyed the group work aspects of the curriculum but disliked the pace of instruction and their grades.
Lombardo interrupted the discussion at that point and asked if the school board intended to allow this new math curriculum to run its course through the remainder of the year. Otto said they would continue its evaluation and do what’s necessary to be successful.
Board President Dave Glass said the students weren’t being educated at high enough standards before the math curriculum change. He’d prefer his child receive an 80 percent and “get more from it” than earn a 100 percent only to be slammed with lower grades on the PSSA and college entrance exams.
“Before, the system was broken. We can’t go back. (Our) change was because we were failing at what we’re doing. We had to try something new. We couldn’t keep doing what we were doing,” Glass said.
“We’ll just have to keep looking at it and keep trying to get better. We can change our course, but we can’t go back.”
Glass encouraged the parents to contact Janocko, who is in charge of the math program. If they’re not satisfied once meeting with him, he advised them to contact Otto.
Board member Phil Carr asked if the district should consider adding another staff member to the math department this year.
Otto said that the eighth grade students usually score around 83 percent or higher on the PSSA. According to him, there were gaps apparent in the math curriculum. Students were coming into Algebra II and getting what had been missed in Algebra I.
He said the high school had a 53 percent five-year average for 11th grade math on the PSSA exams. He said it wasn’t acceptable, and the teachers have suggested creating another Algebra I class.
“The administration didn’t tell the teachers that they needed (a new math curriculum). They decided as a group,” Otto said. “We need to identify our struggles and find ways to help the children.”
Carr said he realized the district couldn’t go backwards but encouraged them to evaluate if they had enough math staff at the high school.