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Clinton Township, Macomb Township

May 14, 2014

Chippewa Valley purchases new elementary math program

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — It’s been a long time in the making, but all students in Chippewa Valley’s 12 elementary schools will have new math textbooks waiting for them when they return to school this fall.

According to Dr. Pamela Jones, director of curriculum and assessment for the district, the new Bridges in Mathematics program was selected in large part because it meets the Common Core state standards, which the Michigan Board of Education adopted in 2010. Jones and other district officials believe that the district’s current elementary math program is outdated, as it has now been in place for a decade and was implemented well before Common Core became the modern standard for K-12 education.

The Bridges program was unanimously approved by the Board of Education on May 5 at a cost of $563,964. In a subsequent interview, Board President Denise Aquino stated that beyond meeting Common Core requirements, choosing a new program was necessary to keep Chippewa Valley from lagging behind neighboring school districts.

“Our primary focus is always student achievement, so if we want our students to at least keep pace with where we’ve been in the past, we need to upgrade our math curriculum,” she explained. “As they move into high school, kids need to be prepared to take the MME and ACT (exams). They’re going to be tested on a lot of new things, so those things need to be part of our curriculum. We have to increase the level of difficulty at a younger age; we have to challenge them to reach the skill set they’re going to need to be competitive later in life.”

While the price tag for the Bridges program might seem eye-popping at first, Aquino emphasized that it will be used to teach all K-5 students across the district for the next several years. Chippewa Valley’s most recent count day statistics indicated that it currently has about 7,100 elementary school students. With that number taken into consideration, the new math program will cost the district less than $80 per pupil.

“This is a huge upfront cost,” Aquino admitted, “but when you think about how much it costs per student over time, it’s really not that much money. And this is not just for one (grade) level — it’s for our entire elementary program. That’s why we had such a thorough selection process, and that’s why it took so long. We wanted to make sure that our elementary teachers were on board with whatever we picked.”

Jones originally gave a presentation on the Bridges program at the Board of Education’s April 28 meeting. In it, she noted that district officials first began looking at the program several years ago as a way to improve Chippewa Valley’s elementary math scores on standardized state assessments and meet the standards of Common Core.

The district’s existing math program “does not align with what we need to be teaching to students, and because of that, our elementary teachers spend hours and hours … going online trying to find more materials because their textbook is so outdated,” Jones said. “We’re trying to make sure that our teachers have all the materials and information they need.”

Jones indicated that Chippewa Valley’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students currently perform at a lower level than those in neighboring districts like Utica and L’Anse Creuse. In addition, she said, there are “extreme inconsistencies” when looking at its math scores from one school to the next and one grade to the next.

To address this issue, district officials began seeking a more consistent and cohesive math program — one that would improve student achievement, define learning objectives and teaching practices across the district, and give teachers the resources necessary to follow Common Core requirements. They also wanted something that would align with the district’s new middle school math program, Connected Mathematics Project 3 (CMP3), which was implemented last fall.

“That transition was very difficult for our students because they were coming out of an elementary program that was far easier than what it needs to be,” Jones said. “CMP3 is a fantastic program, and I think that as the year has gone on, most of our parents have grown to appreciate how well it’s preparing their students for high school. However, at the beginning it was a huge change. … Bridges will kind of bridge that gap, so to speak, and get our students much better prepared for middle school, which I think will help solve that problem.”

Bridges includes two main components, Jones stated. The first, called Bridges in Mathematics, is intended to help students with hands-on problem solving skills and real-world applications. The second, known as the Number Corner, provides daily fluency practice exercises to ensure that students retain their math skills. All students will use three small journals: one for their in-class work, one for their Number Corner work and one for their at-home work.

Teachers, meanwhile, will receive their textbooks both in print and online, as well as all other necessary classroom materials, two full days of training on the Bridges program and comprehensive support throughout the school year. In addition, there are practice tools for parents to use at home with their children.

The final result should be superior math skills across the board for Chippewa Valley students. 

As Jones put it, “This is all about students developing a deeper understanding of these (math) concepts and not just spitting back the things that they’ve memorized. So as they move through each level, they all build off of each other.”

Diane Cerabone, one of Chippewa Valley Schools’ math curriculum leaders, added that students will play a much more active role in the learning process.

“Students are still going to learn all of the same things,” she said, “but we also want them to be able to construct an argument and critique the arguments of others. We want them to be able to use several different types of mathematical models to communicate about what they’re learning with other people. … Another thing that’s new about this math (program) is the way that teachers approach instruction. A teacher-centered classroom where the teacher is dispensing knowledge is different from a student-centered classroom where the students are experiencing math through a hands-on, inquiry-based approach, and they develop their own understanding through dialogue.”

According to Jones, during the selection process, district officials identified seven elementary math programs as possibilities, then presented the five best options to teachers across the district. The teachers were given materials to review and submitted evaluations for each program to Jones and her team, who tallied the results.

In the end, Bridges “by far scored better with our teachers than any other program,” Jones said. The district’s K-12 Evaluation Committee also looked over the Bridges proposal and unanimously recommended it for adoption by the Board of Education. In addition, the committee identified purchasing a new elementary math program as the district’s No. 1 priority for the 2014-15 school year.

Jones told the board that she hoped to get the program approved as soon as possible because she wanted elementary teachers to have all of their Bridges materials available before leaving for summer vacation in June.

Superintendent Ron Roberts reiterated the importance of acting quickly, acknowledging that Chippewa Valley’s elementary math program has long been in need of a facelift.

“I think part of the problem is that we’ve kind of floundered for a while now with how to approach this issue (improving our math assessment scores),” Roberts said. “I think that if you take a program that may not be the perfect program but implement it consistently, you can have better results than if you take pieces of many programs and implement them inconsistently. And I think that’s what we’ve done here. So now, after selecting what people believe are outstanding materials … we should have greater success.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.