By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New curriculum helping Georgia students math scores
Chestatee Middle School eighth-grader Catherine Swanson, 13, completes a math problem Wednesday during class. Georgia is one of 15 states to show significant improvement in eighth-grade mathematics, according to national test results released Wednesday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Click here for an interactive look at national math scores.

The state’s 5-year-old math curriculum may be bearing the fruits of educators’ labor.

The standards-based curriculum was phased into classrooms in recent years, and national assessment results released Wednesday are the first to indicate the new curriculum is improving students’ math skills.

Georgia is one of 15 states that showed “significant improvement” in eighth-grade mathematics according to results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the state Department of Education reported. The department’s release said nearly all eighth-graders who took the test last school year had been taught using the new math curriculum for three years.

“This is the first evidence we have that the (Georgia Performance Standards are) helping our students be more competitive at the national level,” State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox said in the release. “I am confident this is just the beginning of the gains our students will show on national tests as our new curriculum takes hold.”

Eighth-graders’ scores improved three points over the last national assessment given in 2007. Fourth-graders’ scores improved one point, the state department said. Scores for individual districts are not available.

Nationally, the test results show gains in students’ average mathematics scores seen in earlier years did not continue from 2007 to 2009 in fourth grade, but gains did continue in eighth grade, NAEP reported.

Georgia’s eighth-graders averaged 277, which is five points behind the national average. Georgia fourth-graders averaged 236, three points behind the national average according to NAEP.

“These latest Math NAEP scores continue to show that we are making significant progress in the most important subject areas,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue, who was named to the National Assessment Governing Board in May. “Our scores are improving at a faster rate than the national average, which is a result of the hard work of our students, parents and teachers.”

Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall County schools, directed the development of the new Georgia Performance Standards in her capacity as director of curriculum at the state department prior to her job with Hall County.

She said much of the new curriculum is rooted in the conceptual philosophies of Singapore Math and believes it is responsible for the state’s increase.

“I definitely think (the new curriculum) is what’s causing it, because now we’re looking at teaching for understanding. We’re using a lot of problem solving and real-life situations,” she said.

Barron said most Hall County elementary teachers have been using the Singapore Math method to instruct students. She credits its close link matched with well-trained teachers for the district’s recent gains on the math portion of state and national standardized tests. Middle schools in the county use the Georgia Performance Standards as the framework for instruction, she said.

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the district’s elementary schools and middle school use various approaches to math instruction and are intensifying math instruction. Gainesville Middle School did not meet federal academic requirements this year because of a few students’ low math scores on the CRCT.

Each school’s staff chooses its own approach but no schools use Singapore Math exclusively, she said.

The Georgia Performance Standards drive all math instruction, however, Dyer said. She said she believes the new curriculum is positive for students because it focuses on a deeper underlying conceptual knowledge of math.

“It’s based on the concepts and then the knowledge and skills,” she said. “In that conceptual math there is a lot of vocabulary that is tied to the way questions are worded, and in Gainesville City, we’re taking a look at what methods, strategies, techniques we need to improve to get at conceptual knowledge.”

Nationally, the NAEP scores put 39 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders at the proficient level, meaning they show the knowledge and skills they should have at that grade, the Associate Press reported.

That, in turn, means that millions of kids are a long way off from meeting the goal of the No Child Left Behind law championed by George W. Bush, which is that every student can read and do math at their grade level by 2014.

Congress hopes to rewrite the law next year.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the results mean “the status quo isn’t good enough.”

“These NAEP results are a call to action for reforms that will prepare our students to compete in the global economy,” Duncan said.

Tom Loveless, an education expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, said results really weren’t much different from 2007. It will take another four to six years to see if fourth-grade progress has truly stalled, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.