MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Some parents and teachers in Minnesota, awaiting the release of recommendations for teaching mathematics, are urging schools to retreat from what is known as integrated or reform math.
"I don't even understand what they're asking for in the work sheets they bring home," said Melissa Schouviller, whose sixth-and ninth-grade children attend schools in Wayzata. The math program "seems to walk around so many of the steps. It doesn't drill it into their heads. Math is memory -- it is memorization. It is going to stay the same -- math doesn't change," she said.
Later this month, the state's Academic Standards Committee is expected to present the Legislature with new standards for reading, English and math to replace those in the Profile of Learning.
Those who like integrated or reform math say it engages students and leads to deeper understanding. They like its word problems, which stress using math in everyday situations.
Those who don't like it say it's confusing and doesn't teach students basic skills like long division. California was the first state to use integrated or reform math -- but it was later dropped.
When elementary school math scores in Eden Prairie showed a decline on the 2002 state tests, that was proof to many parents that the new math curriculum wasn't working.
A group called Parents for Better Math formed to push for an end to what they called an "experimental" curriculum and a return to a more "proven" program. In January, they presented the school board with a petition with more than 1,200 signatures.
"It doesn't make sense to me then why they would change a program that we had pretty good scores on," said Sandy Luker, a member of the group. "And we were adopting it after other states like California tossed it out."
She agrees that the problem-solving stressed in reform math is valuable. But she said it comes at the expense of basic facts such as multiplication tables.
Those skills are not missing, said Larry Leebens, the Eden Prairie district's curriculum director, they're just presented in different ways. Still, the district is making a number of changes, including adding more computational work and guidelines for when each fact should be mastered and for how quickly students should be able to do such problems.
When parents don't understand the math their kids bring home, they lose confidence in it, said Minneapolis math coordinator Anne Bartel. "We get parents who are engineers and see (integrated math) and say, 'Get my kid out of this,"' she said. "We also get parents who didn't do well in math saying, 'Get my kid back into something I at least recognize."'
Districts in Minneapolis and elsewhere have held family math nights to help both students and their parents learn how to do math the integrated way.
Bartel said that when Minneapolis got the new math curriculum in 1996, the district didn't have money to train the teachers how to use it. That made the transition all the more frustrating.
Still, other parents and teachers sing the praises of new math.
Ellen Delaney, a math teacher in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district, says she enjoys teaching integrated math because it engages more students. Over time, she said, the district has seen more students taking higher levels of math. She believes that's because it has clicked better with them.
The data in the past five years show students in the district making "remarkable progress" in math achievement on standardized tests across all grade levels, said Delaney, who is on the state's standards committee for high school math.
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