By John Chambless
Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Try this problem:
At a parade, there are m women and three times as many men as women. There are 6,352 fewer children than men. Find the number of men and the number of children respectively in terms of m.
That is a sample math problem for fifth graders, taken from the Math in Focus curriculum being phased in this year for students in grades K-6 in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. At a meeting of the school district's curriculum and educational technology committee on Feb. 10, administration officials outlined how the math standards are being raised across the district to meet new state standards.
Each teacher will have nine and a half days of training, according to Ken Batchelor, the assistant to the superintendent, and John Nolen, the director of curriculum and instruction, who met with the school board on Feb. 10. A team of instructors for the new material “has been very impressed with our teachers,” Nolen said.
“The feedback that we've been getting is that this training has been extremely valuable,” Batchelor said.
Nolen summarized the new curriculum by saying that fourth-grade students now have to know what fifth graders used to learn, for example, raising the bar for all students. “This is a huge challenge,” Nolen admitted. “For fourth- to sixth-grade students particularly, we upped the ante by at least a year.”
The new standards are being phased in now, and wll take effect next year. “We anticipate that it will take a couple of years to get our kids where they need to be,” Nolen said. The PSSA tests to be administered this year will be centered on an overlap area between the old and new math standards.
In the fourth grade, algebraic concepts are being introduced.
“We did get some calls in the fall from parents, saying, 'My child's always done well in math. But he got a 74 on the last test,'” Nolen said. “That's gotten a lot better as our teachers have learned more about the program and students get comfortable with the material.”
Two elementary-school teachers at the meeting agreed that the training is going well, and they were enthusiastic about raising the standards across the district. Principals from each of the elementary and middle schools were also in the audience, and reported no problems so far with instituting the new material.
Nolen admitted that the material is more rigorous, but told the board that the phase-in period is going well in the district. “The thing is, if not here, where?” he said. “It is a challenge, but I do predict that our students can handle it.”