The Little Rock School Board on Thursday approved the purchase of math textbooks for elementary students as well as for eighth-grade algebra I and ninththrough-12th grade math courses.
The board’s 5-2 vote will result in the replacement of books purchased in 2012 with Illustrative Math for kindergarten through fifth grades, and Illustrative Math for eighth-grade algebra I. Also among the new materials is Envision for algebra I and II and geometry.
The vote occurred in a special meeting that was followed by an agenda-setting session that focused largely on a discussion on community schools, including expanding their number from the current four to six to include Mabelvale Elementary and Middle schools.
The first-year cost of the new math textbooks for the 21,000-student district will be $1.59 million. Future costs will be for related one-time-use “consumable” products, according to the district’s written recommendations.
Board member Greg Adams made the motion to approve the selection, saying “We have to do better and we have to help our people who are working so hard [produce] better results.” Board member Jeff Wood cast one of the “no” votes on the selection and purchase, saying in part that the Illustrative Math series represents a shift in instructional strategy and will result in parents being left without user-friendly textbooks for helping their children.
An earlier, separate proposal to extend the elementary school instructional day in the district would have given teachers more time to work with students in math but a decision on school day schedules has been put off, Wood said.
He also said people who would have liked to speak to the board about their concerns about the selection process and the selection did not feel welcome to do so. He questioned the process that was used that resulted in two votes by the district employees and whether the “deck was stacked” for the Illustrative Math series.
The School Board had heard presentations and discussed the math book selections in two earlier meetings, including a workshop as recently as Tuesday.
Hope Worsham, the district’s executive director for curriculum and instruction, told the board at those earlier sessions that district students are underperforming in math compared with the rest of the state and to similar or neighboring districts.
That’s the case even in the district’s higher-achieving schools, she said about math. The students there are achieving at higher levels but falling short of goals for achievement growth, she said, based on results from the ACT Aspire in 2018-19 and from the Northwest Education Association Measure of Academic Progress.
The Measure of Academic Progress exams are tests given three times a year, including this just-ended school year, as a gauge of student achievement.
Worsham and other district leaders have said that the Illustrated Math series calls for students to learn “by doing math, solving problems in mathematical and real world context, and constructing arguments using precise language.” Rigorous math tasks and “productive struggles” are meant to promote deep discussions in the classroom about math, resulting in deeper learning and better understanding, they said.
In response to concerns expressed by Wood, Worsham said Thursday that state math standards changed almost 10 years ago and teachers were asked then to change the way they teach math but they didn’t have the materials to support the change.
“That’s where the real frustration for parents came in,” she said. “It wasn’t new math. We were asking students to explain their reasoning in different ways. We really feel strongly that the materials that teachers have access to must line up with what the standards are asking us to do.” She also said that for 10 years educators have been using traditional textbooks and trying to supplement it, and the data doesn’t show progress in math achievement.
Wood also asked about the wisdom of spending money on the Illustrated Math series that is largely available for free online.
Worsham said the cost of the elementary textbook series is under $700,000 and includes hardbound copied material, teacher guides and training.
Worsham and her staff have said that the district will make teacher training and job-embedded coaching on the new math materials a priority over two years.
The district intends to use federal covid-19 relief money to hire district-level instructional facilitators to do that staff training and classroom assistance. Schools will be encouraged to make math instruction a focus of their parent nights.
Worsham and math leaders in the district noted that there has been a “significant decline of students enrolled in Pre-Advanced Placement math courses.” Student enrollment drops by 50% from algebra II to pre-calculus in the district. The numbers continue to drop for the higher-level courses.
“Our change to a more rigorous curriculum will allow our students access and success in higher mathematics, which is the gateway to success in 21st century careers focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, which includes the computer science fields,” Worsham told the board Math in Our World, published by McGraw Hill, was selected for Quantitative Literacy. Bedford, Freeman and Worth is the publisher of the selected Advanced Placement statistics and calculus BC books. Cengage is the publisher of the newly selected pre-calculus/Advanced Placement calculus AB and statistics books.