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Fulton takes on state to allow local control of math curriculum


Request for flexibility hits dead end at State Department of Education



May 28, 2014
ATLANTA – The battle over math in Georgia and how to teach it at the local level has elevated to warfare between state education officials and the Fulton County School System (FCSS).

Fulton Schools officials are urging the state to allow flexibility in assessments to support the curriculum Fulton is teaching, and allow students to be tested at their math level – not just their grade level.

"We believe [local] school boards should have the ability to organize and teach standards in sequences that are appropriate to the students within each district. While this is possible today, the assessments administered by the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE) do not follow this," said Katie Reeves, a member of the Fulton County Board of Education.

Officials with the GDOE offered no comment, other than to say it is "too early" for comment, although concerns with the math curriculum have been an issue for Fulton parents for a decade.

"One of the primary reasons why parents supported the move to a charter system was that we could determine locally what curriculum best suits the needs of our children," said Fulton parent Ed Svitil. "Math is a critical part of their education."

The FCSS has tried for years to bring back a traditional math path to its high school curriculum to allow subjects be taught in a "discrete" manner with each year dedicated to one math concept, such as algebra, geometry and so on.

The state, however, moved to an integrated approach nearly a decade ago with all math concepts put into each year, with "strands" of each concept at each level with advancing depth each year.

Fulton parents fought back as they saw the emphasis on "why" instead of "how" in solving equations, and an inquiry approach to answers instead of simply solving the problem.

After years of unhappy parents and complaints, then-Fulton Superintendent Cindy Loe returned math to the traditional path in high school in 2010, and received approval from the GDOE to do so.

The apparent victory was short-lived when it became apparent approval from the GDOE meant little. The End of Course Test for math (EOCT), which counts for 20 percent of a student's grades, would still be tied to the integrated curriculum.

"Quite frankly, it's difficult to understand why the state would make it so difficult for a community to teach traditional math," said Reeves. "We are simply asking to reorder the standards to accommodate a traditional sequencing of math (Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2)."

For now, the FCSS is essentially teaching a year and a half of math during the school year to cover all the concepts required by the state, and to ensure students are prepared for the EOCT. The end result is a pace too quick for many students, as evidenced by the high number of students taking math in summer school.

In their defense, the state had none. Numerous attempts to contact state education officials for comment received a "no comment." A request sent directly to the head of the math curriculum for the state, Sandi Woodall, earned a rebuke from the GDOE spokesman Matt Cardoza to not contact officials directly, while not addressing the questions.

Woodall appeared at a meeting for Johns Creek parents in early May for what was billed as a discussion of math concerns. However, according to parents who attended, the time was spent on an overview of math in general and not on the specific concerns parents had. She repeatedly told parents she was not responsible for decision-making when it came to assessments.

In the meantime, a united Fulton County Board of Education is reaching out to other school boards to fight for flexibility. The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) will likely adopt a legislative position this month requesting more local control of curriculum, particularly math.

Superintendent denied opportunity to address State Board of Ed

Avossa sought flexibility in state contracts

By CANDY WAYLOCK

candy@northfulton.com

ATLANTA – After he was not allowed to make a statement to the State Board of Education (SBOE) during its May 8 meeting, Fulton School Superintendent Robert Avossa said he was "losing faith" in state leaders to do the right thing for children.

The SBOE, a group of individuals appointed by the governor and charged with making education decisions for state schools, was voting on a contract to develop assessments tied to the math curriculum.

Avossa said he attended the board meeting to request that contracts include flexibility for local districts. He was denied the opportunity to speak because he had not signed up seven days in advance – a procedure of which Avossa was not aware.

"I do not want to be treated specially, but I am speaking on behalf of 100,000 students and my board members who are adamant about local control and adamant about fixing the [math problems] the state created years ago," said Avossa, who leads the third largest school system in the state.

Fulton School Board member Katie Reeves also attended the May meeting and tried to reach as many members as she could prior to the meeting to explain the importance of the vote to Fulton Schools. She said she was surprised to learn many members of the state board, including the chairwoman, were not fully aware of the structure of the math curriculum in the state and the assessments.

Reeves said she was also denied the opportunity to address the SBOE, although there were no speakers signed up.

"It was, to put it mildly, a frustrating experience. To think that the state board would not have three minutes to hear the perspective of the superintendent of one of Georgia's largest school districts is disappointing on many levels," said Reeves.

The board did not discuss the contract and moved it to the consent agenda for approval. For now, Fulton officials are keeping a watchful eye on what develops.

"Whether the State Board of Education and GDOE [Georgia Department of Education] will support developing a test where the questions match the standard and can be ordered in a manner that best suits the delivery model supported by the local community remains to be seen," said Reeves.

RN 05-28-14

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