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Farmington Schools Parents Disappointed by Lack of Movement on Math

Officials say they're taking a measured approach to re-evaluating how they accelerate students.

It has been two weeks since Farmington Hills resident Richard Lerner asked members to take a hard look at how the district treats advanced math students.

To standardize the way students are accelerated, or moved up a grade, the district on three standardized test scores. But a handful of parents, including Lerner, argued at the board's Oct. 4 meeting against denying students the chance to move up because they missed the mark by as little as a single percentage point on one test score.

"I'm disappointed to be back here tonight discussing the matter again and to report, from my perspective, a lack of progress," Lerner said.

Lerner said he met with his sixth-grade daughter's teacher, principal and other district staff before he spoke to the board. "I really feel I've gone through the proper chain of command," he said. "I think this should have been dealt with in the school building. I don't think it should ever have gone this far."

He repeated his concerns about the lack of teacher input, which was eliminated because school officials felt it was inconsistent. He said a better solution would have been to create a way to standardize teacher contributions.

Farmington Schools Assistant Superintendent Catherine Cost said the policy change to benchmarks for acceleration was made for several reasons. She cited changes to math curriculum for lower elementary and upper elementary/middle schools during the past three years and said the district identified a gap in knowledge with students who made the jump.

"By skipping that grade level, that important content was not mastered, so that put a student at a deficit as that student progressed in their mathematical experiences," she said. "That was stressful ... and we saw a decline in the number of students who continued in the honors track later in their high school career."

However, Lerner said there is no way to determine a correlation between the standardized test scores used to draw the line for acceleration and the existence of a math gap later in a child's education.

Based on feedback from the last board meeting, Cost said John Manier, Farmington Schools executive director of instructional services, went in search of information about how to include more input from teachers and parents.

Manier contacted experts at the University of Iowa and asked them about the district's process, teacher/parent input and whether an effective appeals process exists.

"In the world of academia, there's no easy answer, is what we found out," Cost said. Instead, "they gave us more research to look at." She said in the end, that will give the district a better result, but it won't address parents' current concerns.

Manier said the district is examining rating scales, which would create a standardized way to include teacher input. "We need one that's manageable and useful and doesn't require too much training," he said.

Also being investigated is an appeals process, from those who would serve on an appeals committee to what data they should consider. Manier said he thinks the direction the district is heading is the right one and will make the process stronger.

For those students who score high in math and need additional challenges, he said, principals, families and teachers will sit down to create additional ways to keep them engaged, including some online resources.

"I know we can meet the needs of those students," he said, adding that the district has already achieved success with some families.

Lerner remains frustrated; he told officials that he has spent five weeks trying to get his concerns resolved. "I appreciate that we're trying to do the right thing here and fix this, but we're not yet addressing the needs of students who were left out right now. ... Let's turn it back to the schools ... let the people who see these kids every day do what they know is the right thing to do."

Cost and Manier will meet Oct. 26 to discuss math and accleration issues with the members of Together for All Learners (TAL), an organization formed to advocate for gifted students. More information is on the TAL website.

Karen Kmieciak October 20, 2011 at 12:55 PM
I understand the frustration that Mr. Lerner has. We have been there ourselves. I sincerely hope the parents are looking at alternatives outside of school to enhance their students' education. Public school is a slow moving animal. Nothing changes overnight, at least not in a positive direction. Our kids are too important to wait it out. I would suggest looking at some of the materials home-schooling families use and adopt some of those materials for after school enrichment. Good luck and kudos to Mr. Lerner for holding the district's toes to the fire!
Tammy Luty October 22, 2011 at 12:13 AM
TAL stands for Together for Accelerated Learners and is a committee under Farmington PTA Council.
brande October 22, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Even more disconcerting than the math program that is too rigid to accomodate acclerated learners is the patent failure of the trimester system, as acknowledged by a district report, also at the last board meeting. 87 percent of teachers surveyed by the FPS answered they were against trimesters and parents from the beginning urged the district not to adopt trimesters because of lack of instructional continuity. Trimesters and the math program are just 2 mroe examples of an FPS board and administration that are unresponsive/ On election day, parents need to vote out the incumbents and vote for Prof. ginsberg and Dr. Kahn, the 2 candidates who are the only ones dealing honestly with the district's deficiencies and realizing that academic excellence is of paramount concern.
Alan Cook October 24, 2011 at 09:54 PM
National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids. Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out. The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting. Project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room. Alan Cook info@thenumberyard.com www.thenumberyard.com
Joshua Raymond October 31, 2011 at 07:32 PM
Terry, I've seen these struggles in many school districts where the basic assumption seems to be "advanced is advanced" and not recognizing that there is significant variation among advanced students. Some need a small amount of acceleration while others could do 2-3 years of curriculum in one year. The same advanced class is not appropriate for each. It's tough enough to get a school district to implement one level of acceleration and only the most enlightened school district would implement multiple levels of gifted education. Because of this, many parents of gifted children seek other opportunities such as home schooling, cyber schooling, or charter schools. All of these can offer more flexibility than most traditional public schools. Like Farmington's TAL, Rochester SAGE - Supporting Advanced & Gifted Education - http://RochesterSAGE.wordpress.com - is working to increase opportunities for gifted children and we support TAL in their efforts!

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