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State might allow districts to choose traditional math courses
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Drew Rogers, a math teacher at North Hall High School, works through some problems on the board Friday for students. The state school board is in the process of changing math options. - photo by Erin O. Smith

At the recommendation of state Superintendent Richard Woods, the Board of Education has posted new high school math courses that offer traditional options along with the existing “integrated” options.

The board will post the courses, which include foundations of algebra, algebra 1 and geometry, for public comment during a 30-day period. If approved, high schools will be able to decide whether to offer integrated or traditional courses.

“I proposed this in 2005 when I was at (the department of education),” said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Hall County Schools. “The superintendent at the time didn’t want to do it. So I’m kind of proud that the option would be there for systems to make the decision. I think that’s where the decision should be.”

Prior to coming to Hall County, Barron was the department’s director of curriculum and instruction when the Georgia Performance Standards were written. She said when the decision was made to require integrated math, she and her committee went back to the drawing board to make traditional math work under the new standards.

“Here we are, how many years later?” Barron asked. “Ten years later. But I’m glad to see this.”

Sarah Bell, director of curriculum and instruction for Gainesville City Schools, said the system began teaching integrated math years ago, and though the initial transition was difficult, officials have “heard fewer parent concerns in recent years.”

“We have received some feedback that suggests that some students may be more successful with a more targeted approach to math,” Bell said. “At the same time, other students are successful with the integrated approach, so it is difficult to determine which method is the best.”

Bell, like Barron, said she appreciates the state considering some flexibility so districts may determine what is best.

While integrated mathematics is often taught and used in countries with high performance on international assessments, Bell noted that high performance is usually due to many factors.

Both Gainesville City and Hall County systems will consider what is best for students, but Barron said officials won’t make any rash decisions.

“We definitely will not do anything immediately,” Barron said. “Those of us who have taught math in our past know that an integrated approach works. ... We’ve spent a good bit of money getting our resources in place and we wouldn’t consider changing everything, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, before next year.”

Bell said Hall County teachers and administrations will look carefully at the courses proposed by the state and how their own students are performing.

“We will consult surrounding districts, as we would want to consider the needs of potential transfer students, to the extent possible,” Bell said. “Of course, any decisions that will be made will be dependent on the state’s decisions following the public comment period. We look forward to learning more in the coming weeks, as these decisions factor heavily into our planning for the 2015-2016 school year.”

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